One school district begins random drug tests, another considers issue

Quinton Carter, a forensic toxicologist at the Miami Valley Regional Crime Lab, prepares to run drug screenings. LISA POWELL / STAFF
Quinton Carter, a forensic toxicologist at the Miami Valley Regional Crime Lab, prepares to run drug screenings. LISA POWELL / STAFF

Archbishop Alter High School is starting random drug-testing for all students this year, and Xenia school board members are considering drug testing all students involved in extracurricular activities.

The moves come as more Ohio schools implement testing programs that have some administrators saying parents and students favor but that studies show testing by itself is ineffective at deterring substance use among teenagers.

Alter’s random drug-testing for all students is part of a broad health and wellness initiative that includes a mental health component and offers healthier options in the cafeteria.

Alter Principal Lourdes Lambert said they are among the last of area Catholic schools to implement random drug-testing, with programs already in place at Chaminade Julienne, Bishop-Fenwick and Carroll high schools.

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“The reality of where we live in the Miami Valley … there is a drug problem here, and we have to face the fact that our kids will be exposed to it,” Lambert said.

Interviews about the policy, Lambert said, prompted students to respond, “We would love to have this as an out at a party. We would love to be able to say, ‘No, I’m not doing that because I might be called this week to do a random test.’”

Xenia school board members held a work session on the topic Aug. 5 and discussed the issue again at Monday’s regular board meeting. No specific policies have been proposed, but Xenia Board President Dr. Robert Dilliplain said members are “investigating, evaluating and considering” the merits of randomly testing students involved in extracurricular activities.

Prevention and not punishment

Such a policy would be focused on prevention and not punishment, Dilliplain said.

"Policies in use with other districts basically say that they make the urine drug test one of the qualifying prerequisites to participate in extra-curricular activities," Dilliplain said. "He or she may be participating in a high-impact sport that can be dangerous … I believe sports demands the student have all his or her mental faculities on high or they're going to get hurt."

Greene County Juvenile Court provided the Xenia school board with data on drug-related juvenile cases in the city. The court received 106 drug-related juvenile complaints from 2015-2018, resulting in 79 court cases, according to the juvenile court records.

In addition, approximately 100 drug-related offenses, mostly involving marijuana, are filed yearly that are diverted into programs rather than the court system, according to Amy Lewis, Greene County Juvenile Court magistrate.

Like most districts, Xenia schools has a student behavior policy on substance use that can result in suspensions, expulsions and criminal charges. The district also use a police dog with the sheriff’s office to canvas school buildings and parking lots to check for drugs.

‘There should be repercussions’

Xenia graduate Hannah Couch said she would be in favor of testing student-athletes for drugs.

“I think it is a great idea because these athletes maybe want to go to college or play professionally, and it’s a good start to get them prepared for that,” Couch said. “In college or (as a) professional, if they get drug-tested and are found out doing any kind of drugs, they’re not going to be able to play.”

Couch played softball for Xenia and said she felt the district’s drug policy seemed unfairly applied. She said one student was suspended for two years after being caught smoking a cigarette off school grounds and after school hours, while other students were suspended for only two games after being caught smoking marijuana.

“Hopefully, it’s a level playing field for every sport, every gender, every age … If they’re caught doing it, there should be repercussions,” Couch said. “There’s jobs that drug-test. Why can’t they do it in high school? You’re preparing them for real life and adulthood, so why not start now?”

School board member Cheryl Marcus said the question is whether “the implementation of this practice is the best place to invest our time and resources.”

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“We would need to protect kids from false positives and false negatives,” Marcus said. “We have to ask, ‘What will it do to the climate in our building, and what’s the message we’re sending to the kids?’ ”

Studies inconclusive on drug-testing effectiveness

Research into the effectiveness of randomly drug-testing teens is inconclusive, but researchers generally agree that student drug-testing “should not be a stand-alone strategy for reducing substance use,” and “the quality and character of school life is an important factor,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, or NIDA.

NIDA cites studies conducted in 2012 and 2013 that show mixed results. The 2013 study indicated in part there are no causal relationships between school drug-testing and patterns of substance use. A 2012 study found that student drug testing was not associated with changes in the initiation or escalation of substance use.

Another 2012 study found there was no impact on students not participating in random drug testing “on the intention to use substances, the perceived consequences of substance us, participation in activities subject to drug testing, or school connectedness,” according to NIDA.

In a 2018 report, the Health Policy Institute of Ohio lists mandatory random drug-testing in schools under policies where “there is evidence of ineffectiveness or harm.”

Health Policy is a nonpartisan group that provides research to guide Ohio lawmakers and government agencies. Health Policy reported that the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Model Programs Guide rates mandatory random drug testing in schools “as an intervention with no effects.” Further, Health Policy reports the American Academy of Pediatrics opposes widespread drug-testing in schools due to the lack of evidence of effectiveness.

Zero tolerance vs. leniency

Perrysburg-based Great Lakes Biomedical will provide testing for Alter and is already doing so for Chaminade Julienne and Carroll. Those schools are among 160 across the state using the service, according to Great Lakes President Kyle Prueter.

Prueter said he founded the company about 23 years ago when his son was a wrestler. Prueter said prior to one of his son’s matches, his opponent “flipped out,” hurt a wrestler and tried to hit the referee. That student-athlete was later found to be under the influence of drugs, Prueter said.

“Most schools have zero-tolerance drug policies. This program is usually much more lenient. It’s not a gotcha program,” Prueter said. “More schools statewide are going for the program, especially in light of the opioid crisis. It’s not like it used to be with a little bit of pot … Nowadays you can try something and either be hooked or dead.”

Prueter said districts can choose among plans that test for a certain array of drugs, which can include nicotine, chemicals found in vaping devices and enzymes associated with alcohol. Costs can range from $17 to $22 per test, he said.

The Great Lakes Biomedical student drug-testing program uses a random number generator to select who is tested. The results are then communicated only to one or two designated administrators. Prueter said if a student’s sample tests positive, that student then has a confidential meeting with the school official, and the consequences for a first-time offense typically involve required counseling and a temporary suspension from the extra-curricular activity.

Fourth Amendment concerns

“It’s been found through surveys from various schools that 80 to 85 percent of parents are OK with it, and the same surveys show 50 percent or more of students are in favor of it,” Prueter said.

Joe Scholler, West Chester-based attorney with Frost Brown Todd with 20 years of experience practicing school law, said based on a 1995 Supreme Court decision, random drug-testing concerns the Fourth Amendment and courts must weigh “the reasonableness of the search,” a determination done by “balancing the nature of the intrusion to the individual’s privacy against the promotion of a legitimate government interest.”

He said the “legitimate privacy expectations are less with regard to student athletes.”

“The law on this has been settled for a long time. Many schools have had these policies for more than a decade,” Scholler said.