|Issue 2 • Volume 1||
Random Student Drug Testing Program Embraced By Suburban Phoenix Community
by Regina Wainwright
In November of 2005, the Chandler Unified School District in suburban Phoenix, Arizona, was awarded a $780,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education to implement and carry out a three-year mandatory random student drug testing program. The purpose of the program is to protect the health, safety, and welfare of our students. The catalyst for attempting to obtain the grant was a district-wide survey that indicated a concern from parents and students regarding drug availability and use in the community. Although the schools were not exhibiting “drug problems”, a desire to be proactive versus reactive prompted the district to formulate some type of testing program. It is the nature of education to protect our students, and this was just one more area in which vigilance to prevent issues from arising was seen as important.
Creating a clearly organized, supportive, non-punitive intervention program was paramount. Parent information meetings were held at each of our three high schools to disseminate and explain the guidelines of the mandatory random drug testing program. It was decided that the drug testing pool would consist of all students in grades 9-12 participating in any activities governed by the Arizona Interscholastic Association. This range would include students engaged in athletics and fine arts as well as in other activities such as JROTC, Chess Club, and Speech and Debate, and would allow for a diversified, cross cultural pool of testing candidates. It was also decided that a random student drug testing parent/student consent form and a parent handbook would be distributed to each student. Once the consent form is returned to the school site and the student enters into the drug testing pool, he or she becomes eligible to participate in the activity.
The testing process is clearly outlined and protocols defined. The district entered into a contract with a testing company to provide two mobile units, which are gender specific, to obtain urine samples for testing. The company maintains the chain of custody for the samples and transports them to a lab for testing. Students are escorted from class by a district employee who monitors the collection process and answers any questions the students may have at the time. Approximately 30-50 students are impacted on a test day. Once the sample has been obtained, the student is given a pass to return to class. On the day of testing, all parents receive a phone call informing them that their child was randomly selected to be drug tested that day and inquiring if they have any questions. Most thank us for the effort and state how much they appreciate the program.
Once lab results are obtained, a letter is sent home to the parents along with the original test results for their records. Positive test results are dealt with on a personal level and are never sent through the mail. A meeting is held with the student, parents, and the director of the random drug testing program to review the test results and the options available at that time for the student. It is the goal of the program that an assessment will be done and counseling will commence. A minimum of eight hours of counseling is required after the first positive test, and the student is ineligible to participate in his or her activity for four weeks. If counseling is declined, the student is ineligible for the following eight weeks. To date, all students have chosen to attend counseling.
Of the 5,200 students who have been included in the drug testing pool since the program began actively testing students in January of 2006, a total of 1,710 (32.9 percent) have been tested for alcohol, drugs and anabolic steroids. Eighteen (1.05 percent), have tested positive for an illegal substance.
Since its inception, students, parents, teachers, and site administrators have lauded the program. In a March 2006 survey of students participating in the drug testing program, 57 percent of respondents stated that drug testing makes them want to avoid illegal drugs and alcohol. Forty-nine percent stated that they felt drug testing reduces illegal drug use.
When questioned, parents have responded that they feel student testing is a positive deterrent they would like to see continue in the district. There has been no decline in the number of students participating in activities included in the random drug testing program. Based on the comments and feedback obtained over the past year and half, I would highly recommend to other districts that they consider some type of random drug testing program. In today's culture, students not only need it, they also appreciate a reason to say no to drugs.
Regina Wainwright is the Random Student Drug Testing Project Director for Chandler Unified School District.