Officials: Program drug use deterrent

GREENFIELD — Random testing at three of Hancock County’s high schools gives students a reason to say no to drugs, local administrators said, and one school is considering a switch to a quicker, less invasive test.

Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon and Eastern Hancock high schools conduct random drug tests, providing what proponents say is early detection of drug abuse. Since punishment means suspension from sports and other extracurricular activities, the testing also gives students who might be facing peer pressure a reason to turn down an offer of cigarettes, alcohol or other drugs.

Greenfield-Central administrators are now considering a switch to saliva swabs, which they say is far less invasive than the urine sample. Besides, dean Brent Oliver said, it’s also a quicker method, which means less time out of the classroom.

At the end of the day, drug tests aren’t intended to punish; they’re intended for student safety, Oliver said.

“We want to make sure they are not doing things that are going to harm them,” he said.

The tests are funded by grants from Neighborhoods Against Substance Abuse, a local nonprofit that supports drug-free programming in Hancock County.

Oliver said the corporation’s high school and junior high have been conducting random urine sample tests for years, calling 15 to 20 students down one day each month.

Tobacco is the most common thing found, Oliver said, and only about five students test positive a year out of the 120 tested.

Still, a student might spend two hours out of class for the test, long enough to be able to provide a sample. A saliva swab would take about 15 minutes, Oliver said, and could be roughly $10 less per test. That could ultimately mean more students are tested.

“It cuts the amount of time students would be out of class and allows us a great deal more flexibility,” Oliver said.

The change was discussed briefly at last month’s Greenfield-Central school board meeting and will be up for first reading Monday.

For Greenfield-Central junior Rachel Sherman, a change that speeds the process makes sense. Sherman said she was randomly tested last year and missed half of a class.

“(Most students are) kind of annoyed because it takes them out of class, and they lose the opportunity to learn,” Sherman added.

Mt. Vernon High School already uses saliva swabs and has been since random drug testing began there this school year.

Assistant Principal Greg Roach said the program has been working well. Greenfield-Central and Mt. Vernon have a similar punishment system: Students found with alcohol or tobacco in their system are suspended from extracurricular activities and driving to school for 42 days; other drugs bring a suspension of 84 days.

At Mt. Vernon, athletes are suspended for the entire year, but punishment can be reduced if they complete a rehabilitation program or community service hours.

“It serves as a deterrent for our kids, so it’s worth every penny spent,” Roach said. “And if we have a positive test, and we get it early enough into that student’s usage where we can help that student … so it doesn’t become a life-altering thing, then the policy has done its job well.”

Eastern Hancock has been testing its middle school and high school students for 11 years. A urine sample is used, but principal Dave Pfaff said he, too, has considered a switch to a saliva swab.

Pfaff said saliva testing is becoming more sophisticated and reliable, and he likes the fact it means less time out of the classroom.

Eastern Hancock students who test positive for drugs or alcohol are suspended from sports or extracurricular activities for 25 percent of the duration of the activity.

New Palestine High School is the only school that does not do random drug testing.

Principal Keith Fessler and Superintendent Lisa Lantrip said instead they rely on school code for sports and extracurricular activities that a group of community members and administrators ironed out together a couple of years ago.

“We are honoring the work of our community,” Lantrip said.

Under that code, a student who is found to be under the influence of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs is suspended for 50 percent of the sport or extracurricular activity. Lantrip said if a school official is concerned a student is abusing a substance, a meeting is held with a parent to discuss whether a drug test should be done.

“We’re going to work with the parents if we have a suspicion that somebody might be under the influence and go from there,” Lantrip said. “We’re going to work with the parents on an individual basis to do what’s best for our students.”

Tim Retherford, director of Neighborhoods Against Substance Abuse, said each of the three school corporations that does random drug testing received a $4,227 grant for prevention education.

“It’s a great deterrent, a great prevention tool,” he said. “The more reasons you can give young people to say ‘no’ to the pressure of alcohol and drugs, the more results you’re going to get.”

At a glance

Three of the four Hancock County school corporations have random drug testing programs. Here’s a look at each program and penalties for students test positive:

Greenfield-Central: Fifteen to 20 students are tested each month at the junior high and high school. A urine sample is used, but the school board is considering a switch to saliva swabs. A student who tests positive for tobacco or alcohol is prohibited from playing in sports, extracurricular activities and driving to school for 42 calendar days. With a positive test for other drugs, the punishment is extended to 84 days; additional offenses lead to longer punishment periods.

Mt. Vernon: Twenty to 25 high school students are tested per month, all in one day. A saliva swab is used. A student who tests positive for tobacco or alcohol is prohibited from extracurricular activities and driving to school for 42 calendar days. With a positive test for other drugs, the punishment is extended to 84 days; additional offenses lead to longer punishment periods. There’s a 365-day suspension from sports for student athletes. Punishments can be reduced by 50 percent if a student goes through a rehabilitation program or performs community service hours.

Eastern Hancock: Twenty middle school and high school students are tested at a time randomly. A urine test is used, though school officials are considering a switch to saliva swabs. A student who tests positive for alcohol or drugs is prohibited from participating in spots and extracurricular activities for 25 percent of the duration of the activity under first offense; punishment time increases under additional offenses.

Southern Hancock: No random drug testing is done. The school corporation relies on the school’s code of conduct for athletes and other extracurricular activities. Code for sports and extracurricular activities states that a student found abusing a substance will get a suspension of 50 percent of the total number of contests in the season; penalty can be reduced if the student self-reports or performs community service hours.