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Central Bucks School District administrators are planning to meet with parents and students this fall to discuss a random student-drug testing program.
If district administrators decide to implement a program, they won't be the first in the state.
And they probably won't be the last.
No state agency keeps track of how many of the state's 501 school districts have student drug-testing programs, but the newspaper identified 12 school districts across the state, although none in Bucks or Eastern Montgomery counties, that have programs in place. Some are new; some are several years old. Officials from only five districts responded to inquiries about their testing programs.
Officials at school districts with programs said they have successfully reduced student drug use, even though they didn't have much data to support the claim.
Others said they didn't know if student drug use had dropped. But they thought the programs have effectively helped students who use drugs to get the counseling they need — from school nurses and drug counselors — and given students who don't use drugs another way to say “no” to someone who offers drugs to them.
“There is a problem with drug use,” said Barbara Zimmerman, a member of the Hempfield School Board in Lancaster County.
“Anybody in a school district that says they don't have a drug problem is lying or they aren't connected with reality. There's drugs in schools. No matter what way you look at it. It might be on school grounds. It might be on the weekends.”
And Zimmerman, a registered nurse and nursing instructor at Millersville University, believes schools have the responsibility of helping kids by testing them. She advocated for the program at Hempfield.
“What's the difference from when the school nurse is screening your hearing, vision, height, weight? The same thing happens as if you fail your hearing test. What happens? You send a letter home and you've got to get a hearing test,” she said. “This is all about getting help. If we can save one or two kids ... What price do you want to put on a kid's life?”
Asked if the program had reduced drug use at Hempfield in the last three years that the district has had it, Zimmerman answered, “The success question is difficult to get a handle on.”
She acknowledged that much of the data school districts have is self-reported — student responses to statewide surveys about drug and alcohol use.
Fewer students at Hempfield have reported using drugs and alcohol, she said.
Zimmerman said she gives the high school students a written survey at the end of every school year, asking if they think there's a drug problem at Hempfield, if they think the drug-testing program helps them say “no” to the peers and if they chose not to participate in extracurricular activities because of the drug-testing program.
The survey has a portion where students can write their own thoughts, and Zimmerman said most of the students have said they think the drug-testing program has helped curtail drug use at Hempfield.
“Are they saying it because they think they have to say it? Or are they saying it because it's true?” she asked.
“I don't know. It may not be making a difference in big numbers. But maybe it's making a difference with some of these kids who are connecting with school nurses.”
Gettysburg Area School District Superintendent William Hall said earlier this year that he didn't know much about the success of the district's drug-testing program because he's still new to the district.
The district has tested all student-athletes for the past three or four years, he said.
“We're not seeing any alarming increases,” Hall said. “But I can't say that we're seeing any significant decreases, either.”
Solanco School District in southern Lancaster County has had a random student drug-testing program in place for several years. It got federal funding to pay for its program three years ago, and has continued to fund the program out of its own budget for the past two years.
More than 60 percent of the middle and high school students were in the testing pool last year, and a “vast majority” of their tests came back negative for drug use, said district spokesman Keith Kaufman.
Asked if the program has successfully reduced drug use at Solanco, Kaufman couldn't really say.
“What the drug testing program does is that it gives our students another opportunity to say "no' to drug use,” he said.
“If they're getting any kind of peer pressure, they can say, "Listen, I want to be in the band. I want to be on the chess team. I want to be on the football team. I can't risk it. I don't want to lose my parking privileges.' That's a big one. Once students start driving, they don't like the idea of going back to a school bus.”
And, when students test positive for drug use, they can get help from counselors.
“We're happy and we think it's a good idea to have the program,” Kaufman said.
Candis Finan, superintendent of Delaware Valley School District in Pike County, was able to provide a little more data about the success of her district's drug-testing program, but not much more.
The district has had a student drug-testing program since 1998, shortly after a student was caught in the high school parking lot with heroin.
The school district has one of the most comprehensive student drug-testing programs of the districts surveyed. Students in seventh through 12th grade who participate in extracurricular activities and students who drive to school must submit to drug testing.
All of the students who drive or participate in yearlong activities are tested at the beginning of the school year. Students who participate in seasonal activities are tested at the beginning of the season. And all of the students in the testing pool are tested randomly throughout the year.
Finan said the district tested 1,600 students in 2007-08 school year, and nine tested positive for drug use.
The district tested 1,400 students in the 2006-07 school year, and four tested positive.
In all the years the district has had the drug-testing program, Finan said, only one student has ever tested positive a second time.
Finan said the students who participate in extracurricular activities and drive to school are the leaders of the school; and by their refusal to use drugs, they become role models for the others.
“I believe it works. I believe it is clearly a deterrent to student drug use,” Finan said.
“Is (drug use) going down? I wouldn't have figures to support that. The students who wish to participate in activities clearly are not using drugs, I can tell you that.” Christina Kristofic can be reached at 215-345-3079 or ckristofic@phillyBurbs.com.
How drug testing programs work
A look at the policies of the 12 districts with random student drug-testing programs shows that most school districts have their programs set up the same way.
All of the districts include in the testing pool high school students who participate in extracurricular activities — sports, choir, band, student council and yearbook staff, to name a few. Some districts also include middle-schoolers who participate in extracurricular activities. And many include high school students who drive to school.
All of the districts test students randomly throughout the school year. Some conduct initial tests at the beginning of the school year for all student drivers and all students who participate in yearlong activities, and at the beginning of each season for all students who participate in seasonal activities like sports.
All of the districts take a urine sample for the test, and test for at least five drugs. Some districts test for more. The cost per test varies based on the number of drugs being screened.
Drugs screened can include alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, opiates (including heroin and codeine), amphetamines, phencyclidine (including PCP), barbiturates, benzodiazepines, methaqualone, methadone, propoxyphene and steroids.
The schools typically enter students' names into a number generator and each student is assigned a number. Throughout the year, district officials will select several numbers at random and call those students to the office for their test.
Some students are tested once. Some are tested multiple times. And some are never tested.
Students urinate into a cup, and their urine sample is split into two samples.
If the sample comes up negative for drug use, the student can return to his or her daily activities.
If the sample comes up positive for drug use, the second sample is sent to a lab for a test. The lab gives the results to a medical resource officer, who contacts the student's parents to find out if the student takes any prescription drugs.
Students who test positive for drug use but do not take prescription drugs are typically suspended from their extracurricular activities and/or their driving privileges. They typically must be retested and test negative for drug use before they can return to the activities or regain their driving privileges. And they are referred to a drug and alcohol counselor.
Maybe when it becomes cheap enough they can test kids for genes that would pre-dispose them to not being as smart as others and kick them out before they endanger the good kids. You wouldnt want some kid in school or an extra curricular activity program where he might pass on his ways to the others, when the option of sending him home to sit around all afternoon and let him do whatever is available.
the problem with this is that all it does it promote more drug use if the students test positive they can't attend extracurricular activities... alright, so what do you think they will do instead? It's not even fair to restrict students just because of something they do outside of school, at least I don't see how it helps anything If they honestly think this works, good for them, but I don't believe it does.