VERMILION, Ohio - Students in the Vermilion School District may be heading on a new voyage beginning this fall, if the school board passes a drug testing policy at its Monday night meeting.
At this point, it’s a ride not many school systems in Ohio have dared to take: implementing mandatory drug testing for all students in extracurricular activities. Even those seeking a parking pass will need to sign up if the Vermilion Board of Education passes the policy at 7 p.m.
“They're going to have to sign a consent form to random testing,” explained School Superintendent Philip Pempin, who is in full support of the policy. “We are not trying to say we caught you, we got you. We are trying to do what they do in the business world by saying here’s a chance to get some counseling if you have a problem.”
The testing will include high school and middle school students, in all, 60 percent of the district.
“Research shows the more you delay the experimentation at a younger age, the less likely they will become addicted. By doing substance abuse testing we are trying to delay the onset,” explained Pempin.
The mandatory random testing would come in three forms, and this is where Vermilion may be charting new waters. An outside agency would give a urine, swab, or hair follicle test using a mathematical formula to randomly choose who will get tested, and which kind of test will be used. If 15 students are called down to be tested, five of them could get a swab, five could get a hair follicle test and the remainder could get a urine test. Or, they could all get the same test.
“If kids have the availability and they're not being held accountable, they might have a tendency to say, 'I’m going to experiment with it,'” he said. “The more we can keep this random, the better off we believe we will be in deterring students from using a substance.”
Pempin feels three different tests would make it hard for students to prepare for just one. Hair follicles generally cover about 90 days, according to the Drug Testing Network Inc.'s website.
“Hair testing generally uses one-and-a-half inches of hair, representing about three months' growth (head hair normally grows at about 1/2 inch per month). It is generally accepted that in order to test positive, the drug in question must have been used three times or more within the window of the test."
The hair test will not include drugs used in the week prior to the test.
A urine test varies for different drugs, but the general feeling is it covers three days.
A swab test, which uses a person’s saliva, detects drug use within the last 24 hours. Drugs don't linger in saliva so it tends to dissipate rather quickly.
“Vermilion is no different than any other community,” explained Pempin. “The (drug) availability is just as great in Bay Village and Westlake as it is in Vermilion.”
Speaking of communities, Elyria Catholic High School will begin urine drug testing its high school athletes this Wednesday.
“The student can say this gives them the perfect reason not to make that choice. And they can say I’ve got a drug test so that’s not for me,” said Elyria Athletic Director Mike Wisnor.
Pempin and Winsor seem to be running the same play.
“If they go to a party they can say 'no, I can’t do that. I play a sport' or 'I’m in an activity and I have the possibility of being tested and therefore, no, I’m not going to do it.' This provides them an opportunity to say no,” explained Pempin.
But will they?
A 2010 government study showed lukewarm results. The study, commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education, surveyed students at 36 high schools. It showed schools with drug testing had more kids who didn’t use drugs in the last 30 days leading up to the test, as opposed to schools who had no test at all.
USA Today noted of the schools implementing drug testing, 16.5 percent of students reported using tested-for drugs within the past 30 days, opposed to 21.9 percent in schools where a drug policy wasn't mandatory. The study indicated a drug testing policy would not have any affect on future drug use. The same study noted 33 percent of students said they "probably" or "definitely" would try drugs in the next year.
“There is a small minority of parents that feel the [district] is getting overly involved,” Pempin said. Those parents may have a friend located at 4506 Chester Ave. in Cleveland. We reached out to Christine Link, executive director of the ACLU of Ohio, and asked her about the potential of the Vermilion School Board passing this new drug policy.
“We don’t speculate on what hasn’t happened yet. We will see if it happens,” said Link.
If passed, Vermilion students could opt out and not take the test. If they choose that route, they wouldn't get a parking pass or be able to participate in sports or anything else deemed extracurricular.
However, if a student fails a random drug test, they have a few options. First-time offenders will have two choices:
1) Make an appointment with a drug counselor