A Columbus private school has decided to start drug-testing its oldest students.
Brookstone School announced Wednesday that the drug-testing of students in grades 8-12 will be voluntary next school year then mandatory in succeeding years.
“The goals of this policy are proactive and preventive with the sole focus being the student’s health and well-being,” Brookstone’s news release says. “The enhancement calls for students to receive additional education on drug use while providing a reason to say no in a safe and supportive environment. There is a national drug crisis impacting all communities and all schools. Brookstone is committed to responding to this national health issue and being fully engaged in proactively making a positive difference in the lives of its students.”
Jason Branch, chairman of the Brookstone School Board of Trustees, said in the news release, “The daily news has made us all acutely aware of the significance and size of this growing crisis. We must be a part of the solution as we work to save children from this critical health issue.”
Drug-testing will improve the school’s ability to work with parents and healthcare professionals to get students the help they need and redirect their path, the news release says.
“We take the health and well-being of our students very seriously at Brookstone,” Marty Lester, the Head of School, said in the news release. “It is after much study, deliberation and discussion that we adopt this policy. It comes as a response to a national issue and our commitment to do everything we can as a school to proactively make a difference in the lives of our children and families.”
Brookstone has approximately 800 students in 3K-12, including 370 in grades 8-12, Connie Mansour, the school’s communication’s director, told the Ledger-Enquirer.
The Ledger-Enquirer asked Mansour to provide statistics that show the number of Brookstone students disciplined because of drugs. Mansour responded in an email, “The disciplinary issues related to drug use has been minimal at most. We cannot share exact statistics due to confidential reasons. But, this is not a volume issue, it is about the health and well-being of every child.”
In an FAQ, Brookstone said its research of practices at other schools found “how important drug testing programs can be in deterring drug use.”
According to the Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education, its study titled “The Effectiveness of Mandatory-Random Student Drug Testing” examined seven districts that were awarded grants in 2006 by the department’s Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools to implement mandatory-random drug testing programs in their 36 high schools.
The study comprised more than 4,700 students and compares the substance use reported by those in "treatment" high schools randomly assigned to implement the drug-testing program immediately (in the 2007–08 school year) with the substance use reported by students in "control" schools assigned to delay implementing the program for a year (until 2008–09). Among the key findings:
- Some 16 percent of students subject to drug testing reported using substances covered by their district's testing in the past 30 days, compared with 22 percent of comparable students in schools without the program. Similar patterns were observed for other measures of student-reported substance use, but those differences were not statistically significant.
- In the one-year period studied, there was no evidence of any "spillover effects" to students who were not subject to testing. The percentage who reported using substances in the past month was the same at the treatment schools and the control schools.
- There was no effect on students' reported intentions to use substances in the future. Of the students subject to drug testing, 34 percent reported that they "definitely will" or "probably will" use substances in the next 12 months, compared with 33 percent of comparable students in schools without the program.
Brookstone plans to use Psychemedics Corporation, based in Acton, Mass., to drug-test its students via a hair sample. Brookstone’s staff will mail the samples to Psychemedics, which will return the results within four days, Lester said.
During next school year, the results of the voluntary tests will be sent to only the parents or guardians, who will pay for the testing, according to Brookstone’s FAQ.
Starting in August 2019, all Brookstone students in grades 8-12 will be drug-tested at least once per school year, 25 percent will be randomly tested at least twice and 3 percent will be randomly tested a third time, Lester told the Ledger-Enquirer in an interview. The random selections will be generated by a computer, he said, and students won’t be notified before they are tested.
After the mandatory testing begins, the Brookstone Head of School will inform students and their parents or guardians when they have one positive drug test. The student will be required to be assessed by a state-licensed counselor. Then the family will “make a treatment decision,” the FAQ says.
Students with one positive test will be retested at least once more during the school year. Refusal to provide a hair sample will be considered a positive test.
Students with a second positive test will go through the same procedure, but this time the prescribed treatment will be mandatory, and the student won’t attend Brookstone until the prescribing counselor and the attending physician recommend the student’s return to school.
Students with a third positive test will be given the opportunity to withdraw from Brookstone or be dismissed.
Each student’s family will be charged for the testing.
Psychemedics automatically will test Brookstone students for 18 types of drugs. Alcohol isn’t among them, but parents and guardians may request their child’s test to include alcohol screening. Results of the alcohol screening will be sent to only the family, according to the FAQ.
The Brookstone School Board of Trustees started researching this issue five years ago, Branch told the Ledger-Enquirer in an interview.
The board’s interest in such a policy didn’t stem from any incident or increase in drug use among Brookstone students, Branch said. It came from a trend, he said: A majority of approximately 30 peer schools in the Southeast are drug-testing students in some way.
Branch declined to say whether any Brookstone board members voted against this policy.
The reaction from Brookstone parents has been “overwhelmingly positive,” Lester said. “… I think they’re grateful that the school is taking this position, as far as the health and well-being of their children.”
Lester acknowledged “a few” parents have criticized the policy, but the concern has been more about questioning how the policy came about and how it will be implemented, he said. No parents have told him they will remove their child from Brookstone because of this policy, he said.
Brookstone hired Lester 1½ years ago from St. Paul’s Episcopal School in Mobile, Ala., where students have been drug-tested for a dozen years, he said.
“One student elected not to stay, but 12 decided to come,” Lester said of the policy’s initial impact.
And the number of positive tests decreased from more than 10 to only two in those dozen years, Lester said.
“In all my years there and in all the parent meetings I had to talk about it, I can remember only one that ended badly,” he said. “The other ones all ended with a ‘Thank you.’”
Brookstone officials declined the Ledger-Enquirer’s request to interview students about the new drug policy. Lester summarized the students’ reaction by quoting the senior administrator who told him, “There’s the bravado of saying, ‘I don’t understand. This is stupid.’ But at the same time, he said they’re somewhat grateful.”
Branch, who has children in grades 3, 6 and 9 at Brookstone said he hadn’t spoken to them about the drug-testing yet, but here’s what he plans to tell them: “I’ll try to sit down and make sure they understand the heart of why we’re here, the heart of why we’re doing this, and I think they will understand that it comes from a place of love and compassion.”
The Ledger-Enquirer asked officials at other Columbus area schools whether their students are tested for drugs.
St. Anne-Pacellil Catholic School doesn’t drug-test any of its 691 students, including 254 in grades 8-12, and doesn’t plan to start, said Ronie Collins, the school’s president and high school principal.
“Although we are cognizant and concerned about drug abuse among today's children and teenagers, we are equally aware of the many social and physical issues that today’s students face,” she said in an email. “At St. Anne-Pacelli Catholic School, all of these concerns are proactively handled through our faith-based education, parental partnerships, student accountability, supplemental programs, engagement in the classroom and through the extracurricular activities we offer here.”
Calvary Christian School’s policy states that the “administration may, at any time, require a student to participate in a random or individual drug test,” said Becky Young, the school’s communication’s specialist. “If required drug testing is part of a student's disciplinary contract, parents are expected to pay for those services.”
Calvary headmaster Jim Koan, hired a year ago, said this is the first school year the policy has been in place for its 683 students because “this is the policy I have used successfully in previous schools.”
“The policy provides the school the ability to respond as needed if a drug problem is revealed or perceived,” he said. “Fortunately neither has, to date, been the case at Calvary.”
Since 2006, all Glenwood School students are drug-tested when they enter the ninth grade or whenever they enroll in grades 9-12. Then they are subject to random testing at any time. Glenwood randomly tests 25 percent of its students each year, said headmaster Frankie Mitchum.
Drug-testing students doesn’t appear to have hurt Glenwood’s enrollment, which has grown from 590 to 686 since 2006, Mitchum said.
“We have no evidence that the policy affected enrollment positively or negatively,” he told the Ledger-Enquirer in an email. “Reason is that parents are informed during the enrollment process about the requirement.”
In his five years as Glenwood’s headmaster, Mitchum said, only one student has tested positive for a drug, which was marijuana.
After the first violation, the Glenwood student must undergo counseling at the parents’ expense and is suspended from participating in extracurricular activities for at least 60 days, then retested 90-120 days later at the parents’ expense and retested during all random testing.
After the second violation, the Glenwood student’s parents will be asked to voluntarily withdraw their child or face expulsion, Mitchum said.
As for Columbus area public schools, Muscogee County School District superintendent David Lewis told the Ledger-Enquirer in an email that MCSD doesn’t drug-test students “due to the inherent costs associated with doing so, as well as the legal complexities related to this issue in the public school setting.
“However, the MCSD does take proactive measures to create safe and positive learning environments that include alcohol and drug awareness programs, collaboration with local law enforcement officials, and a comprehensive detection and deterrence program implemented with random canine detection searches.”
The superintendents in Phenix City and Chattahoochee County said their districts also don’t drug-test students. The superintendents in Harris, Russell and Lee counties didn’t reply to the Ledger-Enquirer’s query before deadline.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in June 2002, “the U.S. Supreme Court broadened the authority of public schools to test students for illegal drugs. The court ruled to allow random drug tests for all middle and high school students participating in competitive extracurricular activities. The ruling greatly expanded the scope of school drug testing, which previously had been allowed only for student athletes.”