Pubdate: Mon, 16 Apr 2007
Source: Times-Herald (GA)
Copyright: 2007 The Times-Herald
Author: Winston Skinner
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)


The Heritage School has added a policy that school leaders hope will
make it easier for students to say no to drugs.

Random drug testing is now part of the contract between parents and
the local college preparatory private school. Periodically, student
names are pulled using a lottery system. The students selected have a
bit of hair snipped, and the hair is tested.

"We want to be able to say we are a 100 percent drug free campus, and
we're doing everything we can to make that" a reality, said Judith
Griffith, headmaster at Heritage.

Griffith said several factors led to the drug testing policy. The
major one was the death of young people in Newnan from drug use -- one
a year for three consecutive years.

"That began to concern me," she said. Griffith was aware that alcohol
abuse could cause problems for young people, but the area deaths "had
more to do with pills," she said.

She said that a student who came to school inebriated would exhibit
behavior that would tip off adults. With pills, "you might not
notice," Griffith said. "That was weighing on my mind."

When Griffith attended a meeting of the Georgia Independent School
Association, she went to a program given by Tom Johnson, headmaster
for more than two decades at Bayside Academy, a private school in
Daphne, Ala., a Mobile suburb.

Bayside was the first school in the Mobile area to make mandatory
testing for drugs part of its school policy. "I was impressed with
what he had to say," she said.

The program adopted at Heritage is closely modeled on Bayside's
effort, which was implemented using a five-year grant and extensive

Griffith presented her concerns and the testing idea to Heritage's
board. "The board was enthusiastic about this and gave me the support
to move forward," she said.

Students also expressed no problems with the testing concept. A few
parents voiced concerns, but those generally disappeared after they
talked with their children. Meetings were held with parents to hear
their concerns and talk about drug testing for about 18 months prior
to implementation of the new policy.

"Most of the parents, when they understood this is not a program
designed to catch kids" were okay with the idea, Griffith said. "It is
a program designed to give them a reason to say 'no.'"

Johnson said the hair testing process is a bit more expensive than
urine testing. He noted, however, that if offers more data -- showing
any drug use in the past 90 days, as opposed to as little as 24 hours
for some subtances with urine testing.

The hair clipping can also be handled by a staff member of either
gender for both male and female students. Johnson determined it was
"the cleanest method by which we could test students."

Griffith said results are absolutely confidential, and she would not
talk about specifics so far. She did say the results so far "have
validated our feelings that we did not have a problem."

If a student should test positive, parents would be notified, and they
would be given opportunities for their child to receive counseling or
other treatment. If a second testing, 90 days later, resulted in
another positive result, the student would have to leave Heritage.

The parents and student could petition for the student to return after
completion of a successful drug treatment program. "We do believe kids
can be turned around," the local headmaster stated.

Students are not the only people included in the testing program.
While students are being tested through a lottery system, all board
members and teachers will eventually -- and voluntarily -- be tested.
That policy was put in place "so we could say we are a 100 percent
drug-free campus," Griffith said.

Griffith emphasized the drug test results are being kept completely
separate from all other student records, and staff members who send
transcripts and other academic information on students will not have
access to drug test data. "I'm not ever going to talk about the
results," Griffith promised.

The drug testing policy was instituted at Heritage as the second
semester of this school term began.

"We're not doing this because we felt we were a drug school," Griffith
emphasized. The policy is an acknowledgment of "all that's out there"
which "our kids are exposed to."

She said her goal was for students to "have the tools to deal with"
peer pressure.

Griffith noted the world today is much different from just a few years
ago. Both she and Johnson said the testing gives teens a solid reason
to stand firm in the face of peer pressure.

Knowing they could be tested "gives them an easy way to say 'no,"
Johnson said. He said he is perfectly willing to be the heavy, who
gets the blame when a student from Bayside explains why he cannot take
drugs at a party.

Students in grades nine and up can be selected to get their hair
clipped through the lottery system at Heritage. Younger students learn
about being drug free through the Students Are For Education program.
SAFE is offered to local schools by the Coweta County Sheriff's Office.

Heritage also is working with FCD Educational Services to provide
information about drugs and alcohol to both students and parents. FCD
is a non-profit substance abuse prevention organization based in
Newton, Mass. Roger Waitt of FCD will be at Heritage this week
speaking to students, parents and faculty.

An annual visit by someone from FCD is part of Heritage's anti-drug
effort. The partnership with FCD will also enable the school to
address the more thorny problem of alcohol abuse. "What they do on
weekends is of concern to us," Griffith said of Heritage's students.

Griffith said she and other leaders at Heritage want to find "the best
programs to do the best we can for our students."

This will mark Waitt's second visit to Heritage. "He has a really good
rapport with the students."

Data on the number of schools nationwide which test students for drugs
was not readily available. According to the Christian Science Monitor,
a 2003 University of Michigan study showed that 5 percent of schools
tested student athletes, and only 2 percent of schools tested
participants in extracurricular activities.

"Some 18 percent of schools tested for any reason, including suspicion
of drug use," according to the 2005 Monitor article.

The trend is growing, particularly at private schools where parents
enter into a contract with the school. Bayside began testing students
in 2000.

"The independent schools in the Mobile area got together back in 2000
to see about the possibility of our schools doing drug testing. We
looked at it as a health issue," Johnson said.

Mobile school leaders discussed what they could do about both drug and
alcohol abuse. Testing offered "a way we could deter drug use a lot
easier than alcohol," Johnson said.

The Mobile effort included visits from the district attorney and a
judge from New Orleans, where efforts were already under way. "We did
our homework," he said.

Time was also taken to explain the process to both parents and
students. Bayside's testing program was soon followed by testing at
two other Mobile area private schools.

"We did not lose a single student," Johnson said. He said new families
coming to Bayside know about the testing process. "They make a choice
to come to Bayside," he noted.

Drug testing at Heritage and other schools -- particularly private
schools -- is coming to be expected and welcome. "New parents coming
in" have said they like Heritage's approach, Griffith stated. "It's
becoming more and more a part of life."

Programs vary from school-to-school. At Bayside, every student gives a
hair clipping "one time every year" with random tests following,
Johnson said. At Heritage, a lottery is used to select students for
testing at random times.

"I think every school that does it, does it a little bit differently,"
Griffith noted.

Johnson reflected on the impact of the program at Bayside. "I've been
headmaster for about 25 years," he said. "It's probably number one on
my list of the best things I've ever done."
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake