APPLETON —Wellness is at the forefront of the new student drug testing program implemented this fall at St. Francis Xavier High School.
“Our goal isn’t just to be more drug free than the public schools. Our goal is to have every student who graduates to be the way God made them to be and to have a healthy lifestyle,” said Principal Mike Mauthe. “Drugs are a part of every school. While our problem may not be as profound as other schools around us, our problem is profound enough that we want to make sure we get help for the people who are making bad choices.”
Random students are selected each week for testing. The follow-up for a positive test is health based. A student who tests positive must take part in a drug and alcohol evaluation, and the student and parents must abide by that evaluation.
“The only consequence is to get you the help that the evaluation says you need,” said Mauthe. “Anyone who tests positive will be tested again 90 days later.”
The only exception involves athletes. The WIAA (Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association) requires discipline for a positive drug test.
“We worked with the WIAA and the diocese to write the policies. We wanted to strip away any consequences to emphasize wellness, but the way the charter is written with the WIAA, they have to serve a mandatory one-game suspension,” explained Mauthe. “The WIAA was sympathetic to us and would have loved to be able to (waive a suspension), but it’s just not the way the members wrote the charter.”
The process of collecting, testing and results gathering has gone smoothly so far.
“It takes about four minutes to do the collection and fill out the paperwork for a student,” explained Mauthe. “We ship overnight. In the lab, it takes 36 hours. The lab does not receive any names. They just get a randomly assigned number. There are very strict protocols. The student gets to see it all happening and sign to say, ‘This is my hair. Yes, it was sealed in my presence.’”
A lock of hair, the thickness of a shoelace tip, preferably snipped from the back of the head just below the crown, is collected. Hair can also be collected from an arm or leg if necessary. Hair analysis provides a much wider window of detection compared to urinalysis, according to Psychemedics, the laboratory that conducts the screenings for Xavier. Some drugs, including cocaine and methamphetamines, are undetectable in urine 72 hours after use. A hair test covers a period of months. Results from the lab are available in 48 to 72 hours.
“If a kid made a poor decision during the summer and was tested last week, it’s going to show up on the test,” said Mauthe.
Every student is in the pool for testing at Xavier. Public schools cannot test all students, only those in athletics, other activities or with parking permits.
“It doesn’t seem to work if a percentage of the school population can avoid testing by not being involved in school things,” said Mauthe. “Our goal is to have a 100 percent healthy environment.
“We did a lot of research,” he added. “Studies show that the longer a student waits before engaging in drug and alcohol use, the better. A lot of people think they are going to experiment in college, so what is the big deal? It makes a big deal as far as brain development and keeping a healthy lifestyle for the future.”
Listening sessions about the program began two years ago. From those listening sessions, a committee was formed consisting of parents, faculty and community advocates in drug and alcohol education. The committee worked primarily on the education piece of the program. Seven parent meetings were offered.
Xavier did receive some pushback. Some parents had privacy concerns and brought up the issue of the role of the parent versus the role of the school, said Mauthe. Xavier always had drug testing on suspicion or by parent request. Now, if a parent wants their child tested, they can pay the fee and the school will execute the collection.
The program is funded through private donations. No tuition money is used. Mauthe clarified that “It’s not the case where a person came in with a check and said ‘Let’s do it.’” Donors were asked to support the program.
Similar drug testing programs at other schools have been well received by students. Mauthe hopes for the same at Xavier.
“What we heard from a lot of other schools was that while the kids were at first apprehensive, they said, ‘I really like this. I can go to parties. People can say, do you want something and all I have to say is my school tests.’ It doesn’t become a judgment on their coolness,” explained Mauthe. “I would love for a student to say ‘I have a moral objection to drugs, I would never do it.’ But for now, I would love for a kid to say, ‘I can’t, my school tests.’”