Archive for Thursday, December 6, 2007

Principals say testing deterrent to drug use

December 6, 2007

Reported drug and alcohol use is about the same in De Soto USD 232 as it is in Johnson County and even in Kansas, according to the 2007 Kansas Communities that Care Survey.

However, Mill Valley High School Principal Joe Novak said that doesn't mean there isn't a problem.

"I can't concern myself with what may be accepted, what is happening, what others are doing," Novak said. "I think if we commit to education then we have to look at our kids one at a time."

That is why Novak, as part of a special school board committee, is looking into requiring seventh- through 12th-grade students who participate in school activities submit to random drug tests.

The committee, which was formed in November 2006, emphasized at its community meetings last week that data from the Kansas Communities that Care Survey shows that students in the districts are abusing drugs and alcohol.

Committee members stressed that random drug testing, if approved, would be part of a comprehensive strategic plan for addressing drug and alcohol use in the district. Novak said its purpose was to deter students from drug use and not to serve as a "gotcha" technique.

The Kansas Communities that Care Survey asks sixth-, eighth-, 10th- and 12th-grade students about their use of alcohol and tobacco as well as risk and protective factors. Since 1994, the survey has been administered annually free of charge to districts that volunteered to participate. The survey is supported by the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services/Addiction and Prevention Services. About 220 districts and 70,000 students participate in the survey each year. The De Soto School District's 2007 response rate was about 75 percent.

According to the 2007 survey, about 36 percent of the district's 12th-graders and 19.6 percent of its 10th-graders said they had consumed five or more alcoholic drinks in a row at least once in the past two weeks.

Countywide, about 34 percent of 12th-graders and 21.6 percent of 10th-graders answered similarly. Statewide about 33.7 percent of 12th-graders and 22.9 percent of 10th-graders had the same response.

At the community meetings, several parents said they wanted to see alcohol as one of the things the district would test for if a policy were put in place, but they were concerned that it would not catch many students because alcohol leaves the body quickly.

Board President Janine Gracy, who also works as the director for the Regional Prevention Center, said some tests could detect alcohol in the system for up to 48 hours after it is consumed.

"Everybody is concentrating that all of these tests would happen on a Monday morning, well that is not the case," she said. "If it could be established there may be testing times on a Saturday."

The committee still is looking into whether testing on weekends would be a possibility, but Gracy said the district also needs to focus on other drugs including marijuana, LSD and prescription drugs.

"With LSD, we're not talking about a drug like alcohol that is legal when you are 21," she said. "That is hard core stuff."

About 4.9 percent of 12th-graders surveyed in the district said they had used LSD in the past 30 days compared to 3.6 percent of 12th-graders in Johnson County and 2.9 percent of those in the state.

Marijuana also is an issue, Gracy said.

"It seems to be that drug is the 'no big deal' drug," she said. "There are other drugs that we see a trend line and we see it go down, decreasing in use. With this drug we just don't see that downward trend."

According to the survey, about 19 percent of district 12th-graders and 9.6 percent of 10th -graders have used marijuana in the last 30 days.

That compares to about 20 percent of 12th-graders and 15 percent of 10th-graders in the county, and to about 16.6 percent of 12th-graders and 12.7 percent of 10th-graders statewide.

Nationally teen drug use continues to decline, according to information provided by the Office of National Drug Control Policy in Washington, D.C. In 2006, about 15 percent of teens said they used drugs in the past month according to a survey of eighth-, 10th- and 12th-grade students called Monitoring the Future. That is a 23 percent decrease from 2001.

De Soto High School junior Josh Stanley said he has heard people say that De Soto High had a marijuana problem, but he said that was not the case.

"We really don't have a problem at all," he said. "It's just a handful of people that do it. It's really not as big as they are making it out to be."

Mill Valley senior Andrew Walters said he didn't think his school had a drug problem either.

"I don't think we're worse than any other high school," he said.

However, Mill Valley junior Dedan McEllhiney said if the district could afford it, it could help the school.

"If there is a random drug test every once in a while it might clean up the school a lot," he said.

Novak said as a principal he knows that students are using drugs and alcohol but he can't do anything about it unless a student is caught or he is told by a student.

"Do I hear about a party every other weekend or twice a month where these things are happening?" Novak asked. "Absolutely. Can I take action? Absolutely not because again it's hearsay."

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