Strategies for Success, New Pathways to Drug Abuse Prevention
Issue 1 • Volume 1
Fall/Winter 2006

Our Road to Random

By Robert Razzano

On October 2, 2003, a young man made the ultimate decision of his life. It was a decision that would affect his family, friends, and community. That young manís name was Michael Mikkanen.

Michael was a model high school student who had it all. He was an athlete, honor student, popular, and personable. His future was full of promise and opportunities. The pressure of his transition from high school to his first year in college led to severe anxiety, depression, and instability. His inability to cope led to drug use. Heroin was cheap and easy to get. Michaelís addiction became so intense that it led to crime to feed his habit. Eventually Michael was arrested and jailed. On his first night behind bars, Michael made the fateful decision to take his own life.

At the funeral home, Michaelís mother pleaded with me to do something to help our young people with the drug problem in our city. As I sat there with my eldest son and watched Michaelís friends walk up to the casket, I made a commitment to myself that I would try to fulfill the appeal of Michaelís mother. Shortly thereafter I started my research on random and reasonable-suspicion drug testing.

As an administrator for the New Castle Area School District in Pennsylvania, I presented my research at our monthly administrative meetings. Superintendent George Gabriel asked me to select a committee and to present a proposal for drug testing to the school board. My committee included parents, coaches, the district attorney, school board members, the band director, and the athletic director. We spoke with many other school districts that already had a written drug testing policy. The committee spent six months working on the proposal, which Michaelís mother and I presented to the school board. The board approved it, and the policy was implemented for the 2004/2005 school year.

The purpose of the random drug testing policy for the New Castle Area School District is to create a drug-free setting for all students and district employees. It is our belief that participation on any interscholastic athletic team or in any extracurricular activity is a privilege and not a right. The students who volunteer to take part in these programs are expected to accept the responsibilities granted to them by this privilege.

We recognized that drug use by school-age children is becoming more prevalent and dangerous in the community and believed the problem had to be addressed to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of all the students within the district. The need for a random drug testing policy is predicated upon the risk of immediate physical harm to drug users and to those with whom the users play sports or participate in extracurricular activities.

Drug Testing

Drug use is not only a national problem, but a local problem. The objectives of our districtís random drug testing program are to establish a deterrent to drug use and to take a proactive approach toward creating a truly safe and drug-free school.

Drug use is not only a national problem, but a local problem. The objectives of our districtís random drug testing program are to establish a deterrent to drug use and to take a proactive approach toward creating a truly safe and drug-free school. We believe the random drug testing policy undermines the effects of peer pressure by providing students with a legitimate reason to refuse to use illegal drugs. The policy also, we believe, will encourage students who use drugs to participate in drug treatment programs.

Over the past two years, we have administered 2,221 drug tests to our 7th- to 12th-grade students. Less than 1 percent tested positive for illegal drugs. Of the 1,112 students tested during the 2004/2005 school year, there were eight positive tests (five freshman and three seniors). In 2005/2006, we tested 1,109 students. Only two tested positive. The parents of all those students were notified, and each student was obligated to follow the consequence phase of the policy.

The consequences phase includes suspension from extracurricular or athletic activities, assessment from a certified drug and alcohol counselor, five consecutive weeks of drug testing, and an automatic referral to the student assistance program. Also included in our policy is a parental request referral: if parents request that their son or daughter be drug-tested, that student will be added to the random sample list on the next scheduled date.

I am not under the illusion that drug testing is a panacea in the war on drugs. However, I unequivocally believe that a random drug testing policy is a strong deterrent and helps our young people say ďnoĒ to drugs. A drug testing program is worth the effort even if it saves only one life. I know Michael Mikkanenís family would agree.

Robert Razzano is assistant principal of New Castle Junior/Senior High School in New Castle, Pennsylvania.

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