Creighton Prep will begin mandatory, random drug and alcohol testing for all students at the start of the 2014-15 school year, officials announced Wednesday.
The testing will involve collecting hair — about 60 strands — from the heads of selected students and testing it for evidence of significant drinking and a variety of drugs. The testing can detect drug and alcohol use dating as far back as 90 days.
Prep has hired Psychemedics, a company based in Acton, Mass., to conduct the testing. Plans call for testing most students — 80 percent or more — over the course of a school year.
The testing program is the most extensive among metro-area schools. Public schools cannot require drug tests, based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision.
If a Prep student tests positive once, results will be shared with a counselor rather than administrators. The student and parents or guardian would be called in to talk about how to help, with no disciplinary consequences. The student would be tested again in 90 days.
Subsequent positive tests would result in disciplinary action.
Michael Giambelluca, Prep's president, said the initiative is part of the school's developing health and wellness program, which already includes drug and alcohol education and concussion testing and, for the past handful of years, testing for steroids in athletes.
“This is going to make us a stronger school,” Giambelluca said. “Not for us, for our students.”
The school has no indication that the number of Prep students who use alcohol or drugs is any greater or less than at any other school in the area, Giambelluca said. Officials expect “the large majority” of students to test negative.
School officials announced the program to faculty and students Wednesday at separate assemblies before the school day began. Emails and letters were sent to parents. A town hall meeting for parents is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday.
Students appeared to take the announcement in stride. After the assembly in the gym, they had the option of returning to their study hall or attending a question-and-answer session.
Adam Mullin, a sophomore and student council member, called the testing a good thing for the school.
“We have the ability now to catch things earlier on and help people” so they can move on, he said.
Junior Nicholas Davis, also a student council member, said the program would help students make smarter decisions and would give students a reason to say no.
The two students said some of their peers are leery about the program, some voicing concerns about privacy. But the two said they thought students would adjust.
“Overall,” said Mullin, “I think students are accepting it.”
Mari Rensch, president of the Prep Moms, said the testing was one more way to keep kids safe. Everyone she has talked to has been supportive.
She's already discussed it with her son, Micah, a junior and the youngest of her five children. “I said, 'It's one more thing you can use in the face of peer pressure,' ” she said.
Giambelluca said the testing would be part of a three-pronged approach: educating students about the risks of alcohol and drug use; providing an early intervention that at first won't include discipline; and preventing use by giving students an easier way to say no.
While the scope of testing puts Prep well ahead of other metro-area schools, at least a handful of other Catholic and Jesuit schools require similar tests.
Prep has consulted with a number of them, particularly Rockhurst High School in Kansas City, Mo., a Jesuit boys school that launched a similar effort last fall.
In addition to significant drinking, the test will look for marijuana, PCPs, amphetamines, cocaine and opiates. It won't test for K2 or other synthetic marijuana products. K2 was recently blamed for the death of a Greenwood, Neb., teen.
George B. Elder, Psychemedics' vice president for schools and colleges, said the company would like to add K2 to its lineup. But first it would need to pinpoint core chemicals; hundreds of combinations are used to make synthetic marijuana.
Still, the testing covers 90 percent of mainstay drugs.
The alcohol test was launched in June. It won't pick up one beer drunk after a hunting outing or one glass of wine drunk at a wedding. It will pick up repeat usage — about seven drinks or more a month over a three-month period.
The company works with several hundred schools nationwide, including fraternities, colleges and public schools in other states.
Public schools, however, are limited by U.S. Supreme Court rulings to using the testing for students in extracurricular activities. While attending public school is a right, participating in such activities is a privilege.
Greg Harkness, Rockhurst's principal, said his school's decision to test started with conversations with parents.
While results of studies about whether drug testing acts as a deterrent have been mixed, he said, the research is clear that the longer a student waits to experiment with drugs and alcohol, the less likely he is to struggle with it as an adult.
Rockhurst plans to test 600 to 800 students each school year. So far it has tested about 340 students this year. It's gotten seven positive results, one of which was found to be a drug the student was prescribed by a doctor. No students have cited testing as a reason for leaving the school.
John Naatz, in his 22nd year as Prep's principal, said the Omaha school deliberately announced the testing before its annual scholarship and admissions testing for eighth-graders, which is set for this weekend.
Naatz said the midyear announcement also gives existing students and parents time to decide whether they can get on board with the testing program.
The school will pay for the initial test, about $60 a student.
If the first test is positive, families would be required to pay for the second test 90 days later.
A second positive test result will include referral to the school's dean of students for discipline. The student also would be required to complete a chemical dependency screening, follow any recommendations and be tested again in 90 days.
A third positive test would result in dismissal.
More information about the testing policy is available at creightonprep.org/wellness.
• The Westside school district allows parents to sign up their students for voluntary, random drug testing through a local health care provider. About 100 Westside students a month receive a letter asking them to report for testing. Families schedule the tests and receive the results. High school officials receive only aggregate data, nothing indicating sex, age or identity. About 900 of the roughly 2,250 students in grades seven through 12 are enrolled in the program.
• None of the several large local public school districts contacted — Omaha, Lincoln, Millard and Papillion-La Vista — use mandatory random alcohol or drug testing for students. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling prevents public schools from using mandatory tests for all students.
• Most area high schools occasionally use alcohol testing devices to screen students — either all or those suspected of being under the influence — at dances, sporting events or both.