Testing process and results create questions for administrators
The results of the Upper School-wide mandatory drug tests of both students and faculty in March were released, while the announcement of the statistics have been postponed due to COVID-19.
The new drug testing program, announced in November, was implemented to help protect the safety and well-being of students by reducing drug abuse. Hair samples from upper school students and faculty were collected from March 9-11 by Psychemedics Corporation for analysis. According to a May 4 poll of 143 students, 55 percent of students found the testing to be a positive experience.
“I didn’t really know what to expect so my [drug testing] experience wasn’t too bad,” freshman Bridget Wang said. “The overall organization of the testing was well done because there wasn’t any major chaos… the person who cut my hair was very nice, which made the situation better because I had someone to talk to throughout.”
Students and faculty were each assigned 15-minute time slots during their free time to visit the weight room for testing and samples of approximately 1.5 inches of hair were cut by trained hair stylists. When hair couldn’t be taken from a student’s head, body hair was collected. Sophomore Nia Bethea had her arm hair shaved for testing to protect her braids and hopes that a different method for testing will be used in the future for a more positive experience.
“The only option was to dry shave my arms because I didn’t have hair anywhere else, and I got pretty bad razor burns on both arms,” Bethea said. “I normally have my hair up, so hair testing is going to continue to be a struggle for me…I hope they find a more effective way to do this in the future, because I know a lot of people weren’t happy with how it went.”
For the first round of drug testing, student results were released only to their parents. Junior student parent Julie Bagley supports student and faculty drug testing, and found it to be a positive experience for her family.
“While I think it is sad that there is a problem [surrounding drugs] that rose to the level of school involvement, I appreciate [the school’s] efforts to address such a complex issue,” Bagley said. “I think it is a strong deterrent for those who would use [drugs] and possibly an easy excuse for kids who may be on the fence or feel pressured to participate. Also, it has provided opportunities to have honest discussions with my children regarding privacy, drug use and other issues.”
The school received the results of the tests, but students’ names were replaced with anonymous numbers. Due to the situation surrounding COVID-19, the release of the statistics has been postponed.
“I just don’t feel like, considering the current circumstances, now is the right time to release [the drug testing] information,” Head of Upper School Henry Heil said. “The results were very good and I am incredibly pleased with our low positive rate. It is clear that a large majority of our community are taking good care of themselves and our efforts to increase awareness about health and wellbeing seem to resonate.”
According to a May 4 poll of 143 students, 76 percent of students think that releasing the overall statistics from the testing is important. Junior Gina Wilson believes that the release of individual results from the testing is more impactful for students than the release of the overall results and is not in a hurry for them to be announced.
“I don’t think that the release of the statistics is too important because we were already aware that there may be some students doing [the drugs] that we were being tested for,” Wilson said. “The statistics won’t affect [student] life much and the people who ran the drug tests are the ones who should decide when they want to release the statistics.”
Sophomore Paco Gomez does not think that the statistics should be released at all, as he believes actions taken based off of the statistics will not benefit students.
“The school shouldn’t have the statistics in the first place,” Gomez said. “Once the [individual] results are released to students, the school should [end involvement] as they do not have the names of the students who tested positive. There is no further course of action that should be taken.”
Bagley is ready for the release of the overall statistics so that further steps can be taken in order to educate the community.
“It is important that the school releases the statistics,” Bagley said. “The more transparent, the better. Only if we know the extent of the problem, can we really address it.”
Further testing will occur monthly next school year, but will be taken from students and faculty selected at random. The school will be alerted when any student tests positive for drugs a second time.
“I am eager to continue with our testing program in the fall as planned,” Heil said. “New students will all be tested and a small number of Upper School students will be tested randomly each month. Our goal, of course, is that, in conjunction with a robust education program, we are able to help students better manage stress and anxiety and avoid using substances.”