PCA to implement random drug tests next school year|[2/12/05]

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 14, 2005

High-school and junior-high students at Porters Chapel Academy will be subject to random testing for illegal drug use beginning next school year.

The school’s principal, Dr. Gwen Reiber, said the school’s board initiated the change and that the overriding goal of the testing program will be to help the students.

“We’ve been concerned for some time about just the cultural influences on our students and that some of our students seem to be struggling with drug issues,” she said. The board was also concerned about the perception that many students at the school may have drug problems, Reiber added.

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The policy calls for all new students in the 7th through 12th grades to be tested “during the first available testing” and for all students in those grades to be made eligible for random selection for drug testing. It will be the most active drug-testing policy in a Warren County school.

Reiber said she or school staff had talked with several other private schools in the area before the PCA board decided in favor of the policy.

“All said it had had a very positive effect on the student body,” Reiber said.

One advantage of the plan is that it “gives students an excuse to say ‘no’ when pressured by their peers,” Reiber said.

“That was attractive to us because we felt like a lot of students, if given a good reason to say ‘no,’ would say ‘no.'”

The president of the school’s board, Mark Buys, said such a plan had been discussed for years by current board members and their predecessors. The board had studied the issue at great length and sought expert legal counsel, he added.

“It’s something we wanted to look at as a deterrent for any inappropriate activity that may occur at the school or in the lives of the students,” Buys said.

In addition to its new policy of random testing, PCA will also continue to test students it suspects of using drugs. Such students are the only ones tested at the other schools in the county, those of the Vicksburg-Warren School District, the Vicksburg Catholic School’s St. Aloysius High School and All Saints’ Episcopal School.

“We have not seen a need to go that far,” the VWSD superintendent, Dr. James Price, said when asked about random drug testing. “We do have other things we do to closely monitor” the potential use of illegal drugs in the local public schools.

A few public-school districts in the state do test some students randomly for drug use, but most of them limit such testing to athletes, Price said.

“If we see a need for doing that then obviously we’ll ask the board to consider it,” Price said.

“The courts have held consistently that it is OK to randomly test athletes because of the overriding health reason. If we were to do it, we would look first to that.”

The principal of St. Aloysius, Peter Pikul, said his school’s policy is similar.

“If we suspect a student, then we can test for” drugs, Pikul said in summarizing that policy.

The diocese of which the school is a member allows each school’s board to opt for random drug testing but that the VCS board has not taken that option, Pikul added.

The head of All Saints’, the Rev. Bill Martin, said “All Saints’ uses drug tests in a successful program to keep drugs and alcohol off our campus.

“Out of respect for our students’ integrity, we only use drug tests when there is a reason to suspect drug use.”