Pubdate: Fri, 11 Mar 2016
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2016 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: Steven A. Rosenberg


Some parents and educators are cautiously backing a requirement that 
students be screened at schools for signs of substance abuse, but 
expressed concerns about confidentiality and how the state would 
implement the program.

The proposed drug screening is part of an opioid bill passed Thursday 
by the Senate and expected to be signed into law by Governor Charlie Baker.

The screening would be verbal. It would not include drug testing and 
would happen at two grade levels in public schools. Parents or legal 
guardians would have the option to exempt their children from screening.

According to the bill, no written records identifying pupils would be 
created, and parents would be notified only if there was a medical 
emergency or if a student requested parental involvement.

Outside of Swampscott High School on Thursday, some parents and 
students questioned the confidentiality of the screenings and the 
data yielded by the evaluations, which would be sent to the state 
Department of Public Health.

"My gut instinct is that it's a little bit excessive, and invasive, 
even though I really feel strongly that it is a huge issue in the 
schools and the community," said Jessica O'Gorman, who was picking up 
her daughter from the high school.

Kaleigh Cantin, a junior at the school, said the screenings could 
lead to an overreaction by parents.

"I feel like it might be good for kids who might become addicted," 
she said. "But on the same note, drug use in high school, like 
marijuana, is very common, and this might lead to a lot of kids 
getting in trouble, so it might not be the best thing overall."

Michael Eggert, a Newton lawyer whose son attends Newton North High 
School, said that given the urgency of the opioid crisis, he supports 
the screening, as long as parents and students have the right to opt out.

"Anything without opt-out language would be too invasive of the 
students' privacy life," he said.

Senator Jennifer Flanagan, a Leominster Democrat who helped write the 
opioid legislation, said she expected schools would use an evaluation 
model called Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to 
Treatment. It is used in 10 Massachusetts public schools. According 
to the state health department, 1 to 10 percent of students may need treatment.

Flanagan said the health department would train screeners, who would 
typically be school nurses and counselors chosen by each school. She 
said she expects the screening to begin statewide in fall 2017.

"I feel that it's just another entry point to intervene if there's 
something happening," said Flanagan, who lobbied for the student 
screening to be included into the bill. "It's usually a 10-minute 
conversation with a student, and you can really gauge their risky 
behaviors or the possibility of risky behaviors when it comes to drugs."

The state's commissioners of elementary and secondary education and 
public health did not respond to interview requests from the Globe. 
Their two agencies would be responsible for creating the screening 
and deciding the grades in which it would be conducted.

'Drug use in high school, like marijuana, is very common, and this 
might lead to a lot of kids getting in trouble, so it might not be 
the best thing overall. '

But Jacqueline Reis, spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Department of 
Elementary and Secondary Education, said students would be better 
served if the evaluations took place outside of school.

"While we understand the importance of these screenings, resources to 
address opioid concerns are more directly available through medical 
personnel," Reis said.

Money could also be an issue. The legislation does not identify who 
would pay for the screening and training.

"In theory, anything that can help to support children who may be on 
the verge or engaged with any kind of substance abuse we want to 
support, but the issue here is what is the mandate, what is required, 
and what is the cost to do this," said Tom Scott, executive director 
of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents.

As the opioid crisis has swept the state, some educators, including 
North Reading Superintendent Jon Bernard, speculated students might 
welcome the screening. Students, he said, are sometimes pleased and 
relieved when measures like this are enacted.

"It gives those young people who want to do the right thing something 
to fall back on," Bernard said. "In the domain of peer pressure, it 
gives them something to point to and say why I'm not going to do it, 
because they know the consequences will be severe."

Despite the promise that students would remain anonymous and that no 
written records would be created, civil liberties advocates said they 
fear the screenings could backfire and stigmatize students.

"It's very hard to keep a secret in school," said Whitney Taylor, 
political director at the American Civil Liberties Union of 
Massachusetts. "We need to be very wary of that and how the lack of 
secret-keeping can lead to worsening of stigma and labeling of students."

Boston University law professor Jack Beermann urged schools to be 
sensitive with students and carefully follow the language of the bill.

"I hope that school officials are careful when implementing the 
screening process, and that they don't exacerbate the adversarial 
relationship some students experience with their schools," he said. 
"If the screening process is used for statistical purposes and to 
provide help - and not discipline - it seems to me to be a good step."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom