Does it work?

A decision on drug testing in Norwalk schools is one step closer after a divided discussion at Wednesday afternoon's work session. The board met to discuss the findings of the exploratory committee on random drug testing.
Norwalk Reflector Staff
Jul 24, 2010

A decision on drug testing in Norwalk schools is one step closer after a divided discussion at Wednesday afternoon's work session.

The board met to discuss the findings of the exploratory committee on random drug testing.

The board will vote on the issue at the next board meeting, April 17.

All members of the board agreed that educational efforts to reduce drug and alcohol abuse need to be stepped up drug education at the high school is minimal at best. When it came to random drug testing, most board members seemed skeptical.

Janet Broz emerged as the main proponent and defender of drug testing throughout the meeting. Her step-daughter, Stephanie Broz, a recovering heroin addict, first suggested the program to the school in October.

In responses ranging from the adamant to the emotional, Janet Broz said the "bottom line" is the district needs to ask, "What can we do to help? Parents and kids need help," she said.

But, Rob Ludwig responded, random drug testing "doesn't necessarily help them."

Whether testing helps students and whether or not it actually harms them was the central issue among the many issues and concerns the board had.

"To me it's a deterrent," Broz said.

Some students, Ludwig said, will choose not to participate in extracurriculars rather than submit to testing. So students have been moved from the lower-risk population into the higher-risk population.

In the committee's report, Phil Charville described the social control theory of criminology. "Elements that cause a youth to bond with the dominant value system are attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief. The stronger the attachment to family and peers, clubs, school, and church, the less likely delinquency will occur." Charville is the chief probation office at Huron County Juvenile Court.

What about the distrust testing could create among students and teachers? John Lendrum asked. Many students, he said, spend more time with teachers than they do their parents. He's known many teachers who got to a student before it's too late, what if it becomes a "we-they thing walking down the halls?"

Students may do something even worse than the drugs trying to beat the test, Superintendent Wayne Babcanec said. There is an entire industry out there selling ways to beat the test and students have dozens of home remedies. An Oklahoma parent walked in on her daughter drinking bleach to beat a test, according to a story in USA Today cited by the committee's report.

One way to beat the test is to switch from marijuana, which is detectable up to 30 days, to a more serious drug, wrote Jean King, executive director of the ADAMhs board. Stimulants can be detected for one or two days, cocaine for two to four, and opiates up to three, Charville said. Inhalants are untestable, he continued.

Even if they aren't beating it, is a test that tests a fraction of half of the student body which is only a portion of the students in area going to give a student a credible reason to say "no?" Lendrum asked.

The largest nationwide study from the University of Michigan says it does not. In surveys of 170,000 students, researchers at the University of Michigan found that schools with both random and suspicion-based drug testing showed no less drug use than those without. In fact, schools with random drug-testing actually saw a small increase in marijuana use. The study controlled for demographic differences.

Broz criticized the study when Ludwig brought it up. That study is flawed she said because it is mostly Michigan schools that were studied, and those are very different than Norwalk, which is only 16,000 people and "primarily Caucasian."

Broz preferred to take principals' word for it. She preferred the "Indiana Study" which surveyed 56 principals and asked them whether they thought testing works. They said it does. Broz herself called between 20 and 25 districts and found that most administrators agree that it does work. "Just go up to Western Reserve and ask them," Broz said.

The Reflector has spoken to administrators from the surrounding districts and all say they believe testing works, though they can cite nothing more than a general belief.

Most statements from the committee members sided with the Michigan study.

Broz called it a "serious" problem.

"I'm all for the educational element," Ludwig said.

The board discussed new elements of current curricula, asking teachers to encourage students to make good decisions immediately before problem times weekends, between seasons, and breaks. They also discussed hiring a drug counselor, and engaging in extensive outreach to parents to give them the tools to help prevent drug use. Parental action has been proven to be very successful in preventing teen drug use, said King.

Members took umbrage when Broz said, "it would be nive to think it's not in our schools."

"We're not nive," Lendrum said.

The issue appeared fraught with other issues, including: whether it was appropriate for the schools to engage in testing at all; whether the process of testing was something parents should feel comfortable with the school doing; whether the school could afford the problem in the long term; whether the school was likely to have to defend a costly suit (even if it were eventually ruled in the district's favor); and whether such a suit could be used to keep a student in sports until the season ends, when the suit would be dropped.