Saint Joe's Prep to begin hair-sample drug testing on students
The 1,000 students at Saint Joseph's Preparatory School in Philadelphia are about to have another test added to the rigors of high school academia.
But this test will involve plucking their hair instead of picking their brains.
The private Jesuit school is implementing a new random drug test, beginning next month. It joins a growing number of schools across the country now running a drug-testing program.
Ten students from the school's student body will be chosen by lottery twice a month, Saint Joe's spokesman Bill Avington said Friday, meaning 180 tests will be administered each school year.
The reason for the new testing policy is not to punish students or in response to any widespread problem of drug use by students, Avington said.
"We felt it was the most effective way to ensure our students were making proper decisions," he said, noting the school's Jesuit philosophy of It’s an ongoing conversation that we have in what’s the best way to ensure our students’ health and safety."
Students and parents were notified of the new drug test in December, giving them 90 days to get ready for implementation.
The school has hired the most-widely used hair-testing company in the country, Massachusetts-based Psychemedics. The company's vice president for schools and colleges, Dr. George B. Elder, said he now oversees drug testing programs at hundreds of high schools and college athletic programs across the country. The drug testing industry has grown dramatically, he said, since Psychemedics implemented the first high school drug testing program at De La Salle High School in New Orleans 14 years ago.
"We work with several hundred schools and colleges and we’re even testing fraternities," Elder said. "Educators are in the best positions at high schools and colleges to really impact [drug] use by our young people."
While Saint Joe's program will be random testing, Elder predicted that by as early as next year, the school would opt for what many other private schools already implement: mandatory, or universal, drug testing.
Psychemedics also adminsters a testing program at Malvern Preparatory School in Chester County that parents can opt-in to, a school spokeswoman said.
Malvern spokeswoman Monique Kelly said about one-third of the school's high school students' parents have signed their children up for the testing program. The entire school has 624 students in grades six through 12. Students in the middle school grades are not eligible for the testing program. Kelly said.
While there is not yet a consensus on the effect of drug and alcohol use by students at schools that drug test, Elder said there is only a 2 to 3 percent positive test rate among students drug tested after given advance notice of an upcoming test. The national average for high schoolers who have used drugs, he said, is in the 35 percent range.
Saint Joe's students who fail a drug test will not face any disciplinary action if they agree to attend drug and alcohol counseling, join the school's Student Assistance Program, regularly meet with a school counselor and submit drug tests for the remainder of the time at Saint Joe's, the school regulations stipulate. The cost of the subsequent, required drug tests will fall to the parents.
Failing to adhere to those regulations will lead to dismissal. Failing another drug test could also lead to dismissal.
"Because the policy is not punitive, it is meant to provide help for students," Avington said. "If you test positive a first time you have to go get counseling. If there’s a second or third failed test, that’s something we’ll deal with on a case-by-case basis."
Contact Brian X. McCrone at 215-854-2267 or email@example.com. Follow @brianxmccrone on Twitter.