La Salle community backs universal drug testing, with some dissenters

MONFORT HEIGHTS, Ohio – Drew Greiner is a La Salle High School freshman who sees the school’s new mandatory drug testing policy as an insurance policy for his success.

“There’s so much riding on scholarships and jobs, and if I were to do drugs and fall to the peer pressure, I could end up without a scholarship,” he said. “It helps me to stay clean of the bad things in life.”

La Salle, a Catholic all-male high school, will become the first Tri-State school to institute mandatory drug tests for every student next year and believed to be just the second in Ohio, joining St. John’s Jesuit High School in Toledo.

The policy, announced Wednesday, was instituted with the full support of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, according to Superintendent Dr. Jim Rigg, but no plans are in place for other schools to follow suit.

The effort was many months in the making, including a letter to parents and students last summer and a series of informational meetings later. The school has hired Psychemedics Corporation to test hair samples from every student during the first semester of each school year beginning in fall 2014 at a cost of $60, paid by the student’s family. In the second semester, one-third of the students will be randomly selected for a second test that’s free to the students.

This school year, students can volunteer to be tested at no charge.

The test will screen for marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, opiates and PCP. If a student tests positive for any of those drugs, he will be required to enter a counseling program at his or his family’s expense and to be retested about 100 days later. If he fails the second test, he will be expelled.

'They Don't Want To Take This Chance'

Principal Thomas Luebbe said the idea behind the program is for it to act as a deterrent to experimentation.

“We want to prevent kids from beginning to use drugs. We want to give our young men, when they’re out on a Saturday night to have the option to say no. They don’t want to take this chance,” he said.

“Number 2, kids are kids, some may try drugs. Those who do test positive, it gives them the chance to be intervened,” Luebbe said.

He said there are no exceptions to the two strikes rule in place.

The school has elected not to include alcohol in the test, but parents can voluntarily request an alcohol test at an additional cost to them.

Spokesman Greg Tankersley said the response to the testing has been overwhelmingly positive among parents. Four parents interviewed agreed that the consensus was in favor of the policy.

Parent: Counter To Catholic Teaching

But one of those parents, who asked to be unnamed to avoid his son getting criticized at school, thinks the program is the wrong thing to do.

“Our kids have had a great experience at La Salle, but I think you have to have some level of trust with your kids,” he said. “I don’t think that’s something the school should be doing. The school is there to educate them.”

He called the policy of expelling students after two positive tests counter to Catholic teaching.

“If you really have a drug problem, if you have a kid who’s really messed up, now you’re going to kick him out of school and separate him from his friend base, and now he starts over after being publicly humiliated. As Catholics, we’re supposed to help these kids,” he said.

The father said most of the parents he has talked with disagree with him and think drug testing is a good thing.

The school made two parent available during media interviews Wednesday.

“I think doing this in the best interest of these kids. I’m an alumnus, I graduated in 1984, and we didn’t have to worry about it then,” said Scott Greiner, Drew’s dad. “This in my mind is enforcing what I enforce at home.”

Nanci Kah, mother of Andy Kah, a junior, said, “It’s a really great thing for the school. These guys are the future. Don’t you want reasonable, clean people?”

Andy Kah said he has never come in direct contact with illegal drugs but knows of other students who have tried them. He thinks it promotes a positive environment.

Will Policy Prevent Abuse?

The drug testing program was assembled with consultation from Coalition for a Drug Free Greater Cincinnati. Mary Haag, the group’s president and CEO, said the policy could help prevent abuse.

The key is that most kids aren’t using. If we can catch it early and stage a brief intervention, that’s a positive. Just because someone tests positive doesn’t mean they have an addiction,” she said.

Asked whether students suffering from addiction would be helped by this policy, she said, “What the research indicates is that a zero-tolerance policy isn’t most effective because this is the age when they take risks. That’s why a tiered policy is the most beneficial. You set the standard, set clear guidelines and explanations, and that can be a deterrent in itself.”

Luebbe said he had ample anecdotal evidence from other schools with testing programs that they work, though the school did not collect empirical data demonstrating testing effectiveness.

Zack Silka, a spokesman

for St. John in Toledo, said his school implemented a similar policy in fall 2012.

“It’s been very positive here. It’s quickly become part of the culture of the school. It’s been such a real benefit to staff and students,” he said.

Silka declined to say what percentage of students tested positive for drugs but said it was very low.

Researcher: 'These Kids Are Going to Start Drinking A Lot'

Dr. Dan Romer, director of the Adolescent Communication Institute of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at University of Pennsylvania, helped lead a study that indicated random drug testing in high schools did not reduce drug abuse.

Contacted by WCPO Wednesday, he said La Salle’s comprehensive testing was better than selective testing.

“All the research done indicates that kids figure out how these tests don’t work. It becomes a game of cat and mouse,” he said. “In this case, it would be alcohol, so the kids are going to start drinking a lot. They’re going to go to stuff that can’t be detected.”

He dislikes the way the test doesn’t reflect how often a student engaged in drug use. 

“Probably a lot of people have smoked pot and a lot of them are running companies.  It doesn’t discriminate between people,” Romer said.

“This gets back to the respect idea,” he said. “It’s a school. It’s there to educate people, not to engage in surveillance. That’s the problem with this.”

Romer contends that the kids who do need intervention can be identified without blanket drug testing.

“Someone who is on a trajectory of more serious drug use,  that’s going to show up. His grades are going to suffer, there will be absenteeism, he’ll be tired. You don’t need tests to find him,” he said

Green Township Police Chief Bart West, who came to La Salle Wednesday in support of the policy, views the testing differently.

“I think it’s outstanding and I support it 100 percent. When the students face that pressure, they’re going to remember that they’re going to have a drug test at some point in the year,” he said.

West said the police department will not be involved with the test and won’t pursue any charges against students who test positive for illegal drugs.

More information about the policy and its development can be found at www.lasallehs.net/preeminent .

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