The intent is not to condemn or punish a wrongdoer, but to find and help the individual in need.
At least, that’s how the Robbinsville Public School District Board of Education has pitched its new drug testing policy, which will randomly testing of up to 10% of the districts’ athletes, club members and other qualified students at any given time.
The school board formally approved the initiative at its May 28 meeting.
Superintendent Kathie Foster said the decision to propose a randomized drug testing policy was spurred by the results of a 2018 National Institutes on Drug Abuse survey which showed that, among 12th graders, vaping use was reported by 37.3% of students, nicotine use by 29.7% and marijuana/hash oil by 13.1%. The survey of 44,000-plus students also showed that monthly marijuana use is now more frequent among 12th graders than monthly cigarette use, and that vaping use has increased in students from grade eight through 12.
The proposed testing policy would include a pool of students who participate in a “privilege,” meaning members of athletic teams, extracurricular clubs, students who have permits to park on school grounds—as well as those who voluntarily sign up for the testing.
Prohibited substances would include alcohol/ethanol, amphetamines, ecstasy, cocaine, marijuana/THC, opiates, PCP, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, propoxyphene, oxycodone and methaqualone. The district would intend to review the list annually.
Outside contractors will conduct all the school district’s tests, and will pull students at random from a confidential database. Any students who test positive for an illegal drug or alcohol will be tested once more, and their parents will be notified by a medical review officer. Any refusal to participate in randomized testing will count as a positive result.
Though they will not lose access to extracurricular privileges on first offense, students will be required to complete five counseling sessions with a Student Assistance Coordinate, and provide at least three more subsequent random drug tests.
Additional test failures could result in privilege suspensions, increased counseling sessions and subsequent tests, barring from events including senior trip, prom and graduation, and eventual referral to the Child Study Team for assessment.
“This is a bold policy to adopt and implement,” Foster said. “However, if we can delay the onset of drug use or diminish the frequency, we reduce the risk of addiction for that child.”
Foster added that other local districts have adopted similar random drug testing policies, and their early results have shown a deterrent in student drug misuse. She hopes Robbinsville can follow suit.
One such policy was implemented by the Hopewell Valley Regional School District last year. Superintendent Tom Smith confirmed the initial results have shown it being a success, while similarly setting minimal student punishments upon first offenses and instead emphasizing professional aid.
Smith reported that the district had no decrease in student extracurricular club or athletic participation—a concern of parents against the drug test policy at the time of its proposal. Rather, he said, they saw an increase in student privilege participation.
There was also a significant reduction in students testing positive for drugs or alcohol over the school year—a pleasant surprise for Smith and his colleagues considering the district’s previous issues with high test rates for recreational drugs which drove the push for a randomized policy in the first place. At one point, fentanyl was found on school property.
“We clearly had a problem that we acknowledged and owned,” he said. “We wanted to do this in a therapeutic mold.”
Providing therapeutic measures at the time of a failed test to students who are beginning to experiment with drugs and alcohol is surely a wise measure to reduce recurring use. But some of the actual benefit may have also come from the unpredictability of a random drug test policy.
“We hear from kids that they’re talking about it,” Smith said. “It’s giving them a reason to say no, and kids who are at parties or somewhere where it’s being discussed have told us they say no because they’re afraid of getting selected.”
Another benefit to these drug testing policies could be their anonymity—the lack of direct and distinct punishment for a student in lieu of therapy means their classmates may not pick up on what’s happening. As a result, the stigma of failing a drug test isn’t perpetuated.
“It is about as confidential as it gets,” Smith said. “I don’t even get names for failed tests, just the test ID numbers.”
Foster reiterated that the proposed Robbinsville policy would not include academic penalizations, nor would any documentation of a failed test be carried in a student’s academic or discipline records. There is no prosecution for test failure—only help.
“The important emphasis behind a random drug testing program like this is deterrence and remediation versus the punishment of pupils who test positive for prohibited substances,” Foster said.
Foster said if approved, they will closely monitor the policy’s implementation, while collecting data and other metrics to track its benefits.
Though Smith and Hopewell Valley set a model for statistical success under a random drug testing program, the intent isn’t necessarily improved numbers. Rather, Smith said, it’s about ensuring something as serious as a failed drug test becomes a discussion between a parent and their child.
“What I said to our community was that we don’t take pleasure in invoking this policy, but as a parent of two high schoolers, this does provide some level of comfort knowing this process is out there, and that it’s about as therapeutic as we can make it,” Smith said.