Student Testing to Maintain Safe Schools
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
A pioneer in student testing, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools in North Carolina have used the It's My Call/It's Our Call random drug-testing program since 1998. In this program, high school students who participate in extracurricular activities agree to be randomly tested for drugs and alcohol. Other high school students and all middle school students also may volunteer for the program. Parent permission is required.
The program has demonstrated its effectiveness. Since the 2000 school year, the percentage of students testing positive for alcohol and other drugs has declined steadily. It's My Call/It's Our Call is designed to be therapeutic rather than punitive. Students who test positive are invited to be evaluated and treated for addiction problems at the school system's expense. If students agree to evaluations and treatment, their positive results are not reported to school officials.
The program was started at Carver High School in 1992 before it was adopted system wide 6 years later. With almost 90 percent of the students participating in the program, Carver has won a trophy the past 3 years for having the highest percentage of student involvement. System wide participation in the program is a solid 55 percent.
"When so many students participate, they feel positive peer pressure to join the program," said Carol Montague, the principal of Carver. "It's helped create a very positive environment where you're expected to be drug and alcohol free. "The program is a collaborative effort by the school system, the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office and the Partnership for a Drug-Free NC.
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A Reward for Staying Clean
Autauga County School System
In rural Autauga County, Alabama, students have a special incentive to stay off drugs. As part of a voluntary drug-testing program, participating students who test negative for drugs in random screenings receive discounts and other perks from scores of area businesses.
Community leaders and school officials, prompted by a growing concern about the use of drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes among students, launched the program in 2000 with the help of a local drug-free coalition called Peers Are Staying Straight (PASS). "Our community was awakening to the fact that we needed to do something," says PASS Executive Director Martha Ellis.
The Independent Decision program began with just the 7th grade but will expand each year to include all grade levels. In the 2001—2002 school year, more than half of all 7th and 8th graders at public and private schools participated.
To enter the program, kids take a urine test for nicotine, cocaine, amphetamines, opiates, PCP, and marijuana. Those who test negative get a picture ID that entitles them to special deals at more than 55 participating restaurants and stores. Students keep the ID as long as they test negative in twice-yearly random drug tests.
Those who test positive (there have been only three) must relinquish their cards and any special privileges. The school counselor notifies the parents and, if appropriate, offers advice about where to find help. At that point, the matter is strictly in the parents' hands. If the child tests negative in a subsequent random test, his or her card is returned. "Our whole purpose," says Ellis, "is to reward kids who stay clean and help them see the benefits of a drug-free lifestyle."
Surveys taken by PRIDE (the National Parents' Resource Institute for Drug Education) before the program began and again in 2002 showed significant reductions in drug use among Autauga County's 8th graders: from 35.9 percent to 24.4 percent for nicotine, 39.9 percent to 30 percent for alcohol, and 18.5 percent to 11.8 percent for marijuana.
For more information about Autauga's Independent Decision program, call (334) 358–4900.
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Testing Made the Difference
Hunterdon Central Regional High School
Teachers and administrators at Hunterdon Central Regional High School in Flemington, New Jersey, were alarmed. A survey taken during the 1996–1997 school year revealed that 45 percent of the school's 2,500 students had smoked marijuana, 70 percent were drinking alcohol, and 13 percent of all seniors had used cocaine. More than 10 percent of the student population had used hallucinogens, and 38 percent of seniors reported that heroin was readily available to them.
"Our drug problem was probably no worse than that of other high schools," says Principal Lisa Brady. "But for us, this was just unacceptable."
In September 1997, Hunterdon began a random drug-testing program for all student athletes. Urine was tested for marijuana, cocaine, heroin/codeine, amphetamine/methamphetamine, PCP, steroids, and alcohol. If a student tested positive, the school notified the parents and set up a meeting with the student, his or her parents, and a school counselor to discuss treatment options. The student attended a mandatory 4-week drug education course and was suspended from athletic activity until a subsequent test showed the drug use had stopped.
"We had one of the best random testing implementations in the country," says Brady. "It was working well." Indeed, a survey in 1999 showed that drug use at Hunterdon had declined in 20 of 28 key categories. For example, cocaine use among seniors had dropped from 13 percent to 4 percent, according to the survey. In another encouraging finding, the number of 10th graders reporting little or no use of drugs or alcohol increased from 41.8 percent to 47.3 percent.
Brady credits drug testing for the decline. "It was the only variable in the equation," she says. "Nothing else had changed." Hunterdon expanded its testing program in February 2000 to include students participating in any extracurricular activity. Even kids who wanted to act in school plays or obtain a parking permit could be called in to take a drug test. Eventually, problems with adulterated urine samples prompted school officials to give up urine testing and start testing oral fluids.
In September 2000, however, the school suspended all random testing when the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in New Jersey state court on behalf of students who claimed their Fourth Amendment rights were violated. (The suit is still pending.) Since the school halted testing, Brady has seen what she believes to be clear evidence that drug use at Hunterdon has begun to rise. "There's no question it's gotten worse," she says.
Before drug testing began at Hunterdon, many people in the community resisted the idea, explains Brady. "Now parents are demanding that we test their kids."
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