Simply typing that sentence fills me with sadness, that it is necessary to explore more dramatic deterrents to keep our students safe from drugs. Yet a careful review of prior school district action helps put the recommendation in context.
My very first Hopewell Express column “Supporting our Educational Marathon,” explained our long-term view for many proactive social-emotional initiatives throughout our district. Subsequent columns advocate character education, increasing academic access while reducing student stress, and Hopewell United in Empathy.
A common theme of partnering with teachers, administration, parents, and the greater community to support student social-emotional health drives district initiatives from the past to present.
On Jan. 20, we once again join the Hopewell Valley Municipal Alliance to offer the very successful Parenting Conference featuring many informative sessions. Consistent with our focus, the keynote speaker will discuss, “Helping Kids Reduce Their Stress (and ours) in the Pursuit of Success.”
While the wide-ranging conference delves in numerous areas unrelated to drug use, last year’s conference did introduce the Recovery Advocates group that provide a peer-to-peer program positively impacting our region.
District health and wellness student coursework addresses an extensive number of student mental health issues. Further, we augment classwork with special assemblies. Most recently author Rachel Simmons dealt with bullying and social media.
In addition to all district programming available, our student assistance counselor staffing levels are higher than those in neighboring districts to offer more student-centered contact.
By taking a comprehensive approach, we strive to connect students with many opportunities to avoid drug use in hopes that at least one truly resonates.
I remember an assembly in February of 2016, where local inmates visited our school to discuss the consequences they experienced while acting under the influence. The two most compelling accounts were from a male that had attended Montgomery High School and a female that had attended Hopewell Valley Central High School. Their lives were ruined and I am still haunted by how easily their stories could have come from any of our children.
Our district is recognized for our inclusive approach to work collaboratively with the community to support healthy decision making by adolescents. Last May, our board president, superintendent and supervisor of counseling were invited to present with Heidi Kahme of the Municipal Alliance at a statewide program entitled The Opioid Crisis.
Unlike some presenters who described programs designed to improve an already degraded situation, our group discussed methods designed to prevent and proactively avoid a crisis.
On a somewhat related note, many local districts of similar socioeconomic means have recently experienced an increase in the worst possible scenario—student suicide. Their profound grief is unthinkable and we feel their devastation as our communities have a strong connection.
To be honest, we also experience some relief and gratefulness that our school district has been blessed, thus far, to escape the same fate.
Which brings me full circle to the topic at hand. Any tool that can provide an opportunity for early intervention for drug abuse or other social-emotional issues increases the opportunity for ultimately successful outcomes. Random drug testing is one such tool.
The 93 percent of CHS students who currently participate in at least one co-curricular activity would be subject to the proposed random testing program. Including students engaged in co-curriculars and those receiving privileges such as parking spaces reach the greatest number of students while proven to withstand legal challenge.
Unlike our current approach, in which positive test results lead to academic suspension and police involvement, the proposed policy would exclude previous consequences in favor of a more proactive, therapeutic approach.
Since testing programs are fairly common across the state, procedures such as ways of determining a random approach are readily available. The NIH also offers a great resource at drugabuse.gov and includes excellent information about the deterrent effects of random drug testing.
Our district takes a holistic approach toward addressing mental health needs. A drug testing policy should be treated as another tool in a comprehensive program meant to address such a complex issue.
Lisa Wolff is a member of the Hopewell Valley Regional School Board.