The new drug testing policy at one local high school has sent a ripple through Kansas City.
Starting with the 2013-2014 school year, Rockhurst High School will be collecting hair samples from students for random drug testing – and participation is mandatory.
Officials at the Jesuit school tell 41 Action News approximately 60 strands of hair will be cut from the selected students' heads or bodies (private areas excluded) and sent off for testing by a company called Psychemedics. A staff member at Rockhurst is a barber and will be handling the hair collection.
The school will test for the use of a variety of substances over the previous 90 days, including cocaine, PCP, opiates, methamphetamine, marijuana and binge alcohol.
See policies from other districts around the metro | http://bit.ly/11b1Al1
“Our point is, if we do encounter a student who has made some bad decisions with drugs or alcohol, we will be able to intervene, get the parents involved, get him help if necessary, and then help him get back on a path of better decision making, healthier choices for his life,” Rockhurst Principal Greg Harkness said.
According to the new policy, if a student tests positive for any of the substances, the guidance counselor assigned to that student is notified. The counselor will then bring in the parents and the student to have a conversation about how to best get the student help.
The student is given 90 days to be drug free. No administrative personnel are ever told, and the incident is only noted in the student’s guidance file. That file is destroyed upon graduation and never sent to any college or university. The only way anyone would ever see the documents is if files were subpoenaed.
So what led to the school’s new drug policy?
The answer is at least five-fold: a significant change in students’ perceptions, natural teen transformation, publicized changes with marijuana in our country, new research on brain development and the Internet.
Rockhurst recently surveyed students using an outside company, and found students’ perceptions about drug use were actually much different than reality.
“What was most alarming for us is that when you asked our students if everyone else is doing it, they said 'Yes.' But, in fact, they weren’t. It’s that perception I think among teenagers today that fuels the peer pressure – that there’s this idea that 'Everyone is doing it, so I guess I have to do it myself,'” Harkness said.
While the survey was enlightening, teenage transformation and the Internet played significant parts in the school’s decision, as well.
“Adolescents by their very nature are also spinning off to be very independent, so there are things that they do behind their parents’ back – that the best kids do behind their parents’ back – simply because they are beginning that process of individuation and moving on," Harkness said. "I have never had an experience as a counselor where parents were completely aware of everything that was going on – and perhaps it should be that way. Part of an adolescent’s life is to be resourceful.
"What’s different today is that the way in which an adolescent is resourceful is, instead of five friends at school, we have 700 friends on Facebook. We have the ability to speak in a global community instead of a neighborhood community. So, the influences are very different today," he said.
Influences are different and the risks are greater.
When talking about brain development, Harkness’ tone changed just slightly. It was calculated and concerned – in almost a parental way. Substance abuse at this critical age can have long-lasting effects, can be much harsher on adolescents than on adults and much more addictive.
“I think the reason you see school administrators – such as myself – constantly in dialogue about these questions is because we know this new evidence is there about development, and we know the impact that intoxication can have on a developing brain,” Harkness said. “We also know teenagers are more susceptible to addiction and intoxication because of their stage of brain development. And so it all adds up to this perfect storm of a conversation, so to speak. We care about kids, and we care about what’s happening to them.”
With continued coverage over the fight to legalize marijuana, the fact that some states have already legalized it and the ongoing discussion that is had about the drug, teens are getting conflicting information. This, too, played into Rockhurst’s decision.
For two years, parents and administrators have discussed the reasons for and against drug testing.