Drugs, alcohol and other mind-altering substances have been a problem in America’s schools for decades. But even though they present a serious challenge, it seems as though many communities don’t take them all that seriously. One result, according to a recently released nationwide study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, is that the use of illicit drugs is disturbingly high and growing.
Nearly half the high school seniors studied reported having used some form of illicit drug at one point in their lives. And almost a quarter of the seniors surveyed in 2010 had done so just within the previous month.
That doesn’t even count alcohol use. Two-thirds of the seniors in the study reporting drinking within the past year; more than 40 percent of them just within the past month. And 2.7 percent reported drinking daily, notwithstanding the fact that they were all significantly under the legal drinking age. It’s no wonder that math and science test scores of American students have fallen behind those of every other industrialized nation, as well as most developing ones.
The good news is that Seneca Valley’s schools seem to be moving the other direction. And they have data to prove it. That’s because the school, for the past eight years, has had a drug testing policy in place. Although it doesn’t apply to all students – the district is legally limited in who they can include in the mandatory testing program – it applies to the great majority who either participate in athletics, in extracurricular activities, or drive to school.
What it shows is that the average positive drug test result for Seneca Valley students is 0.43 percent – less than half of one percent. Nationally, the corresponding number is 2.5 percent – more than five times higher. Even more importantly, the Seneca Valley number has gone down in each of the last three years from 0.72 percent in 2009, and 0.66 percent in 2010.
The key to Seneca Valley’s approach is that the tests – which are administered by Ohio-based Sports Safe Testing Service – are not used as tools to punish students or expel them from the district’s schools. Instead, they are intended to provide an early warning of trouble to parents and school administrators. And in the sequence of five follow-up tests required for those who did test positive for drugs, only one student showed evidence of a repeat offense.
As a result, the program has become a model for other schools all around the country, and school administrators have been approached not only by other districts, but by CBS News and the White House Office of national Drug Control Policy to learn more about Seneca Valley’s success.
For a school district which has steadily raised its academic performance, this show of concern about drug use should tell local parents that Seneca Valley takes a broad approach to student health and achievement, and that it acts with their children’s best interests at heart. As a parent of three Seneca Valley students, I really appreciate that. As one of my Township Supervisor’s always reminds me, “it’s easy to do nothing; it’s hard to do the right thing.” Seneca Valley has chosen to do the right thing. My thanks to the leadership of our school district.
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