- Associated Press - Friday, December 16, 2016

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - As the Shawnee Heights Unified School District 450 board of education begins to consider a random drug testing policy for the district’s middle and high school students, Seaman USD 345 has nearly a year and half worth of results from its own policy of testing students for illegal substances.

“It’s gone better than even what I would have imagined,” said Mike Monaghan, principal at Seaman High School who also instituted a similar policy while he was principal at Hayden High School in 2012. “I’ve been through this once before and noticed huge gains in achievement, across the board academically, extracurriculars and athletics.”

Monaghan said he has seen similar success since August 2015 when USD 345 began randomly testing students who participate in athletics and activities sponsored by the Kansas State High School Activities Association and who have a parking permit.

“Behaviors have improved,” he told the Topeka Capital-Journal (https://bit.ly/2gEG9CR ). “We had an 18 percent in the first year decrease in disciplinary reports. We had a 70 percent decrease in hearings related to drug offenses.”

“We’re not hiding our heads in the sand and saying we don’t have a problem here,” Brad Dietz, Seaman High School assistant principal and athletic director, said in August 2015 as the testing policy was set to take effect. “Parents like this policy and they want their child involved in it.”

One such parent was Pam Anderson, the mother of twin daughters Michelle and Marcy Anderson, who have since graduated from Seaman High School.

“It’s about time,” Anderson said last year. “I knew there was a problem and there was no getting a handle on it. I thought (the administration) needed some leverage to put a little bit of fear of stronger repercussions (for drug use by students).”

Monaghan, more importantly, said the overall “climate and culture” of the Seaman student body has improved with gains seen in the performance of athletes and others participants in the KSHSAA-sponsored programs, a sentiment shared by Katie McLaughlin, Seaman High School student council president.

“We did have a big drug problem,” she said. “I think it’s positively impacted us. It keeps involvement up.”

McLaughlin said she agrees with what administrators and other supporters of the testing policy have claimed: that having the random testing policy gives her peers the ability to say “no” to drugs in the first place for fear they may be tested.

“It doesn’t necessarily get them in trouble,” she said of the policy. “They don’t want to go down that road. We’ve had so many kids go down that road. It really does keep our student body safe.”

Students are randomly chosen by the drug testing company, Psychemedics, through a number system. Hair samples are taken from the student and then tested for marijuana, heroin, cocaine and various types of opiates, or prescription drugs. When the student is in the high school administration office during the taking of the hair sample, Monaghan said they are asked by him and other administrators how they’re doing with their academics, extracurricular activities and how they’re doing in general.

McLaughlin said the fact that administrators try to make the time while the student is in the office for the test a positive experience and it has made a noticeable difference.

“I think there’s more of a connection between the administrators and the students as a result of the drug testing,” she said. “It’s been good.”

Monaghan said while he can point to successes with the testing policy at Seaman High School, he said it’s an ongoing and increasingly more difficult battle to get students to understand the dangers of drug abuse.

“Well, they really are bad, especially for teenagers,” Monaghan said, citing research that adolescent minds are still developing and that any altering of their brain chemistry is dangerous. “We’re able to counteract all the national hype about legalization efforts and that type of thing and people who believe it’s not bad for you. We can actually do something in our community which we have done.”

A key aspect of the random testing policy, Monaghan said, is that a positive test result doesn’t lead to punitive sanctions automatically, rather first a referral to Shawnee Regional Prevention and Recovery Services, better known as PARS, a nonprofit, voluntary drug and alcohol evaluation program in Topeka.

“The evaluation consists of a 2½ hour session with a licensed addictions counselor,” according to the PARS website. “A parent or guardian is required to attend if the youth is under 18 years of age. After carefully considering all information learned during the evaluation process, the counselor makes individualized recommendations regarding next steps for the youth and family.”

In addition to Shawnee Heights, Monaghan said he has been approached by the principal at Wamego High School and representatives from several other Centennial League schools have inquired about how Seaman has implemented its random drug testing policy.

Doug Bonney, the legal director of the Americans Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Kansas and Missouri since 2008, said he often fields calls when school districts begin talking about instituting a random drug testing policy.

“Often I hear from parents and reporters when this comes up,” he said. “I give them a little history of this issue and the Supreme Court.”

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that students who voluntarily participate in school-sponsored athletics and activities can be required to participate in a random drug testing policy. Bonney said he believes the high court was wrong in that decision. Instead, he said the ACLU believes children should have the same rights as adults under the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

“We’ve lost that battle, there’s no question about it,” Bonney said. “But we think that’s wrong, but the districts are correct. They have the constitutional authority.”

The students who are least likely to be involved in drugs are the athletes and students involved in extracurricular activities, Bonney said. He said districts’ limited funds would be better used someplace else.

“Spending that money makes little sense,” he said. “The incidence of positive tests is extremely low. It’s usually not that big a problem. If a student has a drug problem, there are other signs, like dropping grades, not showing up to class.”

Bonney said the chance the tests can reveal much more information about an individual student, well beyond whether he or she is using illegal drugs, is a violation of privacy.

“Ultimately they could do genetic testing,” he said. “They’re quite invasive in what they show.”


Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, https://www.cjonline.com

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