Parents of middle and high school students in Buhl, Idaho, who are concerned that their teen-agers may be using drugs or alcohol can ask the school district to test them randomly for substance abuse, under a new district policy being instated this fall. The program includes counseling for students who are found to have used illegal substances.

The policy marks the first time the district has offered a drug-testing service to the parents of all students, instead of requiring random drug screening only for athletes.

According to Richard Hill, the district’s superintendent, “We’ve been participating in student-athlete testing for a while, where students are randomly asked to take urine tests. We are now taking that one step further, based on a call from parents who have nonathletic students [and] who want their kids randomly tested.”

In 1997, the district began random screenings of students in athletics and other extracurricular activities sanctioned by the Idaho High School Activities Association, such as music and drama. Idaho schools do not have the legal grounds to randomly test all students.

Beginning this fall, however, parents can ask that their teens be added to the random screening pool, whether they are in an extracurricular activity or not. According to Hill, the service will be free to parents who decide in favor of random testing.

The testing is voluntary on the part of parents and incorporates counseling and in-school suspension for students caught using drugs or alcohol.

“Leading up to this point, we have had a lot of requests from parents to test their kids,” Hill said. “We really do hope that a lot of parents use this [service] and don’t worry about things like social stigma. Their kids’ safety should be their first concern.

“We contracted with a firm that takes care of kids referred by parents or caught by testing,” he continued. “The drug testing is enforced through a new school policy called the PASS [Positive Alternatives to School Suspension] program. Once kids are caught through random screening, they are sent to the PASS program rather than sent home for the traditional out-of-school suspension.”

The PASS program offers an alternative to sending students home, which serves little purpose, Hill said. The students study in an off-campus school setting. At the same time, they are counseled on substance abuse and other issues.

“The thing is, out-of-school suspension is like a free vacation for a lot of kids,” Hill said. “We want to treat all kids the same. We keep them there all day, and PASS representatives are with the kids the whole time. For drug and alcohol cases, we have a licensed drug and alcohol counselor come in and talk to the kids.”

“They are still there doing work. They are not at home chilling out for three or four days,” said Brent Cunningham, who does substance abuse counseling for Buhl.

The district received a $50,000, two-year grant from the Idaho Department of Juvenile Corrections to fund its pilot program. The grant covers the cost of the urinalysis, the urine specimen cups, and the drug and alcohol counselor. It also covers the PASS supervisor and a part-time PASS coordinator to ensure the process runs smoothly, Hill said.

According to Hill, Buhl has modeled its program after one used by the Idaho Falls School District but has modified the program to fit Buhl’s smaller size. “By all accounts, [Idaho Falls has] had great success with programs like this,” he said.

Parent Judy Felton of Buhl heads up Youth Unlimited, a citizen’s task force backing the district’s drug prevention efforts. She also chairs the state Board of Juvenile Corrections, which oversees the Idaho Department of Juvenile Corrections.

“As long as they have the courage to get it started, we thought we’d let them know that we’re behind them,” she said. Youth Unlimited works to develop community resources to form ties between young people and adults.

“Our hope is that kids will think twice about getting involved with drugs and alcohol. We hope this off-site facility will be, frankly, unbearable,” Hill said.

Hill thinks the new program will be a fair and effective deterrent to drug and alcohol abuse among students. “Since we implemented drug-testing three years ago, we have not had one complaint,” he said.

In Idaho, 22 of the 112 school districts have some form of random drug testing. n

Links:

Buhl High School, 525 Sawtooth Road, Buhl, ID 83316; phone (208) 543-8262, web http://www.d412.k12.id.us/bhs/ index.htm.

Buhl Middle School, 216 Seventh Avenue North, Buhl, ID 83316; phone (208) 543-8292, web http://www. d412.k12.id.s/bms/default.htm.