CHAMPION - The new voluntary random drug testing program at the high school provides students with one more avenue for saying no to drugs, Principal Mary Walker said.
Walker said that she strongly believes that by participating in the program, students will have an "out" to using drugs at parties and other gatherings, that it will arm them against peer pressure, and will help them make better life decisions.
"If one kid, one family, uses this program, we've won already," she said. "My hope is that every member of every club, every team, eventually participates in this and encourages their peers to do likewise."
She explained the initiative, which is being implemented this year, to a handful of parents who attended a presentation Wednesday in the Champion High School auditorium.
"It makes it easier for kids to say they can't do it because they're in the bowl," she said.
Being "in the bowl" means the student's name is placed in a bowl from which names are randomly drawn several times during the school year.
Tribune Chronicle / Virginia Shank
Champion High School Principal Mary Walker explains to parents the new voluntary random drug testing program being implemented this year.
When a student's name is pulled, the school nurse takes a strand of hair from that individual. The hair is sent to the lab for analysis by Psychemics, a drug testing company based in Acton, Mass. The results are sent to the parents, not the school.
"We don't get the information, and how parents decide to use it is up to them completely," Walker said.
One parent, Kennith Gore, said he's impressed by the program.
"I think it's a good deterrent," he said. "I think it prepares kids for what they might have to face in life, with certain jobs that require drug testing. If the military can do this, why not our kids? Why not the welfare system? I think it's something that can really work and make a difference."
Walker said studies show that just because students use drugs socially or recreationally, that doesn't mean they are "bad kids."
"On the contrary, these are good kids," she said. "But they want to to be accepted. They want to fit in."
She said the program is also designed to accurately and reliably identify students already in need of help. Other schools, such as Boardman, that have used hair testing as a deterrent have reduced student drug use dramatically, she said.
Parents pay for the test, which amounts to about $40 plus postage. Walker said that so far she hasn't received any negative feedback from parents or students, possibly in part because it is voluntary program.
Nick Leigh, 16, a junior and member of ROTC, said he supports drug testing and plans to sign up for it.
"We get tested for ROTC," he said. "I think it really helps because you know you could be tested, but you don't know when, and it's just not worth the risk."
She said that some of the advantages to using hair is that is it less invasive than alternatives such as blood or urine testing, is more accurate, provides fewer false positive results and drugs can be detected in hair samples up to 90 days. Also, where some drug tests detect only marijuana, hair testing reveals a variety of substances, she added.
"It really is a very simple, beautiful program," Walker said. "I plan to promote it and encourage students and parents to sign up."
She said she plans to send permission slips home within the next few weeks for parents to sign. Students are not permitted to sign onto the program without parental consent. There is no cost to participate until a student's named is pulled and a sample is taken.
"Even up to that point, before we even send it to the lab, if a parent wants to back out they can," Walker said. "This is to be used as a tool, something positive, a deterrent to using drugs. It's not to cause parents or students unnecessary stress or hardship.
"Often, we find, these kids want an out. They want to go to parties, be with their friends, have fun, but they don't want to do the drugs, but it's become expected for a lot of them. This gives them a way to say they can't risk it because they could be tested. It gives them the out."