Drug testing in schools

When Crescenta Valley High School instituted a voluntary student drug testing program, a district first, for some it was a sign of innovation and progress in addressing a festering problem, but for others, like student Wayne Park, the distinction was dubious.
The 18-year-old high school senior signed up for anonymous testing, but only because he said he has nothing to prove. He doesn’t use drugs, and said most of his peers don’t either.

“I personally hate the drug issue, and it embarrasses me for the school,” Park said.

But a coalition of teachers, parents and Glendale Unified officials have taken a different position after a steady rise in the number of drug-related suspensions and incidents at the school.

“We were noticing more activity in the past several years at Crescenta Valley High School,” said school board President Greg Krikorian.

Drug, alcohol-related suspensions

At the beginning of the current school year, district officials saw an increase in the number of drug-related suspensions at Crescenta Valley High School, coinciding with more drug use in the area, Deputy Supt. Dick Sheehan said.

Glendale police and Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies have reported an overall rise in drug use in the Crescenta Valley in the past five years.

At the same time, community concerns about substance abuse among teens and young adults have also intensified.

But for all the attention paid to Crescenta Valley High, the number of drug- and alcohol-related suspensions there dropped from 49 in 2007-08 to 32 in 2008-09, according to district statistics. So far, the number has remained fairly flat, with 33 students suspended for drugs and alcohol this year.

But Glendale High School has experienced a significant increase in drug- and alcohol-related suspensions, from 18 in 2008-09 to 35 this year, according to district statistics.

Most of this year’s suspensions were related to marijuana use or possession, according to Glendale Police Department records. One suspension was related to a student who tried to sell Ecstasy at a dance.

But it’s not just the number of drug-related incidents at Crescenta Valley High that has administrators and parents worried, but the nature of the drugs.

Officials said they have seized marijuana, LSD, Xanax, Ecstasy pills and chemical-based products used for inhaling at Crescenta Valley High — as opposed to the pot-centric Glendale High campus.

Still, Park, the senior at Crescenta Valley High, said most incidents on campus that he knew of were related to alcohol, marijuana and smoking cigarettes.

“I think to an extent it is exaggerated, but there is no denying that one exists,” he said.

The number of incidents did slow this year when drug-sniffing dogs were used on campus, said Linda Evans at the Crescenta Valley Drug & Alcohol Prevention Coalition’s April 22 meeting.

With the rising drug-use trend at the two high schools — Hoover High has seen a drop in incidents — school officials said they may expand the voluntary drug testing program to other high schools if it is successful at Crescenta Valley High, Sheehan said.

“The schools are just a microcosm of the community in which they are located,” he said. “There has been an increase in drug arrests that is well documented by the [Glendale Police Department] in the La Crescenta area. And Crescenta Valley obviously sits in the heart of La Crescenta, and therefore, it is a concern for us.”

Anonymity guaranteed

When the school district opted to go with the drug testing problem, officials sent 2,964 letters to Crescenta Valley High parents earlier this year, informing them about the program.

Of the letters sent, 2,019 were returned, and 518 students were enrolled into the program.

Parents and students will not be notified of an upcoming test date, and participating students will be randomly selected for a urine test.

The tests from Laguna Hills-based Complete Drug Testing cost about $20 each to be funded through a district safety grant, Evans said.

The test will never be connected to the students, who will not face negative repercussions because of its anonymity, she said.

The test results are so anonymous that even school officials won’t know the names of the students being tested, Evans said. The only parties privy to the results will be the student’s parents.

“No matter the result of the drug test, the family is informed, and should the drug test be positive, the drug testing company provides the family with resources,” she said.

At the end of the school year, the drug testing company will provide the district with a report on the number of tests administered and its findings, she added.

An excuse to say ‘no’

School officials say the voluntary drug testing will give students enrolled in the program an excuse to turn down drugs if they can say they’re fearful of getting caught by their parents — basically an end-around to peer pressure.

In a 2006 San Clemente High School survey with a similar testing program, 33% of students enrolled in the program used the testing as a reason to say no to drugs, Evans said.

While students participating in the program used it as an excuse, 23% of teens not enrolled also used it as a reason to say no to drugs, she said.

Some Crescenta Valley High students say that the program will be used only by teens who don’t use drugs.

Student Jordan Adajar, 17, said he doesn’t know anyone who is using hard drugs like heroin, which police officials say has become an increasingly popular opiate among youth in the area.

But he acknowledged that if students are using heroin, the voluntary drug testing could help them kick their habits.

“If you are on heroin, you might be addicted to it, and you might not be willing to try and find a solution to get off of it,” Jordan said. “So if there is random drug testing, they can get that and seek help.”

In bringing the program to Crescenta Valley High School, officials said they were hoping it would create an open dialogue between parents and students about substance abuse.

“Our first goal was that every family that got the letter sat down and had a serious conversation with their son or daughter regarding drugs,” Evans said.

But ultimately, school officials and community members say parents play the greatest role in putting a damper on drug use among teens.

“We could do voluntary drug testing,” Krikorian said. “We could bring dogs. We could bring inspections . . . but if the parents aren’t involved in their kids’ lives beyond this, it is going to be a hard fight for us in anything that we do.”

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