Students at Trinity High School will begin mandatory random drug and alcohol testing with the start of the 2015-2016 academic year.
Students learned of the new policy during class assemblies May 5 and letters were mailed to parents the previous day.
School officials said the new drug-testing policy is not based on any specific event at Trinity. But rather, the policy is part of an effort the school has had in place for a number of years, said Dr. Robert J. Mullen, president of Trinity.
“We see this as a way to strengthen one of our key pillars — looking out for the student’s health and well-being,” Mullen said in an interview at the school May 4.
“We do this in a number of ways, from the food we serve in the cafeteria, the lessons we give on distracted driving, on abstinence and Internet safety,” he said. “This is just another important piece of that.”
Mullen said two factors were important in the school’s decision to implement mandatory drug testing.
First, Mullen said, a large body of scientific data says the longer a person delays exposure to addictive substances, the better chance the person has, as an adult, to avoid addiction.
Dr. Frances Jensen, professor and chair of the department of neurology at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, writes in her recently published book, “The Teenage Brain,” that teens are more susceptible to addictive behaviors.
Secondly, Mullen said he and his leadership team have received compelling feedback from other Catholic high schools that have similar drug-testing policies.
A survey of Catholic high schools in Cleveland, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Chicago, Memphis and others also influenced Trinity’s decision to move forward with the new policy.
“Of the schools we talked to not a single Catholic school said they wished they hadn’t done this,” Mullen said. Their feedback has been “overwhelmingly positive.”
Mullen said that Our Lady of Providence High School in Clarksville, Ind., instituted a similar policy with positive results.
Bethlehem High School in Bardstown, Ky., also has a random drug testing policy in place.
Trinity also conducted a community-wide survey that asked parents of sixth- to 12th-graders, in both Catholic and non-Catholic schools, if they would support random drug testing.
“What we found is, if we create a program aimed at helping students — and not first reacting by kicking a student out — parent’s welcome it,” Mullen said.
Trinity principal Daniel Zoeller said he has presented components of this policy to Trinity’s parent forum in the course of the last five years with “great levels” of support.
As an added benefit, the policy will give students a “way out” if they find themselves in a pressured social setting, Mullen said. “One of the biggest benefits is that it empowers students to be able to say ‘no.’ I’m really convinced this will save
Zoeller added that the school already “talks to students and educates students about drug and alcohol abuse but we don’t know how effective that is when they are at a party. Now they can say ‘I can’t. My school tests.’ This gives them a powerful tool to do the right thing.”
Michael Hiestand, the newly-elected senior class president for the 2015-2016 school year, said the new testing policy will likely be looked on favorably by most students.
“I feel like it’s a very positive thing for my community of brothers at Trinity. It’s the school’s way of showing that it really does care about us,” he said. “It will help a lot of my friends to pursue academics and social success in a more safe way.”
He also said that for some of his fellow students, the ability to say, “I can’t do that. My school tests,” will be beneficial.
“On a social level, it’s hard for some kids to overcome peer pressure in their daily lives. This will really help to negate that,” Hiestand said.
The goal for the 2015-2016 school year is to test approximately 75 percent of the student body. In future years, all students will undergo random testing each year, Zoeller said.
Tests will be conducted by collecting a small sample of hair from the student’s scalp. Hair testing “offers significantly greater detection ability over testing samples of blood, urine or saliva,” a news release from the school said. A test of the hair will be able to detect drug use dating back about 90 days.
If a student tests positive, the student and his parents will meet with school officials to plan appropriate care. The student will be tested again in 100 days. If the student again tests positive, he will be eligible for dismissal, the release said.
If a student is determined to be working toward correcting a substance abuse problem, the student may be allowed to remain enrolled at the school with stipulations, Mullen said.
The test will detect such drugs as cocaine, marijuana, heroin, codeine, morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, methamphetamines, ecstasy, phencyclidine and oxymorphone. Binge drinking will also be detected through the testing, the release noted.
Mullen said the new program will be funded by a minimal increase in tuition. He added that there is clear scientific evidence that alcohol and drug use is damaging to a still-developing adolescent brain.
“Science tells us it isn’t good for adolescent brains. But, we also believe in this place that using and abusing drugs and alcohol is not good for our souls.
“We are trying to help students in five ways: socially, emotionally, physically, intellectually and spiritually. And, this supports that aim 100 percent,” he said.
The school will host an informational meeting for parents May 7, at 7 p.m. in the Convocation Hall of the school’s Communications Arts Center.