Nordhoff's voluntary drug testing starts up
By Jesse Phelps
Public high school students throughout
the valley are buzzing about the drug testing about to be implemented
in their schools. As questions bubble up among the youth community,
Ojai Unified School District Assistant Superintendent Jim Berube
reminds us that the students themselves requested the tests.
"What it all started from was those incidents we had last
summer," said Berube at the Nordhoff Job Fair on Friday.
"From there, we had a big parents meeting at Nordhoff. I
heard loud and clear from the kids that were there that they
were interested in voluntary drug testing. It surprised me."
Berube said the tests, which detect and measure eight substances,
including marijuana, alcohol, the much ballyhooed OxyContin,
and various other uppers and downers of ill repute, will begin
as soon as March 1.
In hopes of getting the program off the ground quickly, Berube
looked to his connections at schools around the state. "San
Clemente High School had a voluntary drug testing program for
a few years," he said. "I had them send up information
to me. And also some parents, interestingly enough, did the same
Berube said he wanted to see a community partnership form to
put a package together. He approached parents and students, the
school district, the Ojai Valley Community Hospital, and physicians
in town. "I've never seen anything like it. It was, like,
yes! If you want it, we'll do it. Everything just fell into place,
bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. It was amazing."
The district will fund the initial trial period of testing as
a pilot program until the end of the school year, Berube said.
"I want to get it going while the momentum's hot. I don't
want to be out there fund raising right now, I have money to
get this thing going."
Parents are asked on the sign-up form for a $20 donation, but
the test is free to those who can't pay. Each drug test costs
about $35 or $36 and Berube estimates that the program will cost
about $7,000 next year.
With the double-edged sword of a powerful coalition and ready
funding, Berube took his proposal to the school board last Wednesday
and everything quickly became official.
The testing will be offered to all students at Nordhoff and Chaparral
high schools in grades nine through 12. The form will require
signatures from both parents and students and results from all
tests go only to the families. Berube says the school "never
An independent laboratory in Laguna Beach will begin randomly
selecting enrollees for testing twice a month beginning in March.
The district wanted to avoid any semblance of the appearance
of favoritism and so will have the independent lab, which also
verifies all positive test results, select all the names.
The initial test is done at the Ojai Community Hospital and the
schools have what Berube terms "a limited responsibility."
The schools "make sure parents get the packet," he
said. "We're gonna do a mass mailing...and then the parents
turn in the sign-up sheet to the principal here."
The schools also collect a databank of names of families in the
program, which are sent to both Ojai Community and Laguna Beach.
The lab in Laguna maintains the master database. After Laguna's
computer selects names for testing, the schools' principals then
decide what days and times to test.
Assuming more than 10 families sign up, test days will occur
randomly, twice a month. Approximately 10 students per day will
be tested, making it a total of 20 per month at the beginning.
On the day of testing, formalized chain-of-custody requirements
demand that an adult be present at all times to ensure the validity
of each test. Berube said that the school will send an adult
to get the student out of class and to the testing area.
After the hospital does the testing, he said, "The sample
is given to the technician, sealed, identified."
And if a student refuses to be tested? "It stops right there,"
In that event the school will call and inform the parent. From
there, "It's up to the family. We just make sure the parent
understands, you know, we went out to get your child today out
of class and he just refused, he did not want to be tested."
Ojai Valley Community Hospital will send a letter of congratulations
to all families with negative test results.
Upon confirmation of the positive test, says Berube, "Laguna
calls the parents personally and talks to them and describes
to them which of the eight drugs tested positive twice. There's
no doubt. You may hear all kinds of excuses from your son or
daughter but there's no doubt."
Berube says he's starting the program off small because he wants
to get all the steps down perfectly. "You have to be very
legal and very careful with all of this and I want to do it right.
We'll evaluate it in the school year and if it goes like I think
it'll go, we may offer it all the way down to the 7th grade level."
Three families have already signed up at Chaparral. Families
can sign up at any time with Berube, Nordhoff principal Dan Musick,
or Chaparral principal Steve Olsen. Berube recommended that any
student on campus with questions go to one of the assistant principals
or to Musick.
He stressed that the reason for the program is "not to catch
kids. The program is to give parents information and give kids
possible excuses why not to get involved in drugs."
The logic is that kids can now refuse to smoke, drink or sniff
on the grounds that they may have to be tested for drugs. "Even
if you're not in the program, you can use it as an excuse,"
The lab will send data back to the schools but Berube did not
specify an amount of time before it can be conclusively evaluated.
It will reflect total positive and negative results for the various
substances - without including names.
Berube said the raw numbers will help the school district evaluate
the program and "see if we're headed in the right direction."
San Clemente has 50 percent of a total student body of 2,400
kids enrolled in its program, with a six-percent positive test
rate. Berube would like to see at least half of Ojai's families
enrolled as well but admits it "may take time to build the
confidence of the families that yes, this is confidential."
Asked if the kids might feel a sense of coercion, of pressure
to sign on, Berube replied, "That's up to the families.
We're leaving that in the parents' hands. It is a parent-volunteer
drug testing program, without a doubt. Those are conversations
the parents have to have with their kids."
The Ojai Valley News
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