Lutheran West to begin drug-testing students in fall

Lutheran West will join three other private high schools in drug testing this fall. (photo Sue Botos)

By Sue Botos

Rocky River

At the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year, Lutheran West High School will join three other area private schools in testing students for drug use.

Announced to parents and students prior to spring break, the program will use hair testing techniques similar to those initiated last year at St. Ignatius, St. Edward and Gilmour Academy. Lutheran West’s sister school, Lutheran East High School in Cleveland Heights, has opted not to participate in the testing.

Principal Dale Wolfgram told West Life that plans for the testing program have been approved by the school’s board of trustees, but will not be put in place until the fall. “This will give students (with drug problems) the chance to get clean over the summer,” he stated.

Wolfgram stated that there is “no evidence of the use of illegal substances at our school, but we would be naive to think no one is using.” He added that routine locker checks by drug-sniffing dogs are conducted.

While the purpose of each school’s testing initiative is to assist students with drug issues, and other schools were consulted about their programs, Wolfgram said each is a bit different, with Lutheran West’s being a “wellness initiative.” In a letter to parents, he stated that the testing will “focus on keeping our students drug free through a combination of education, testing and support.”

The testing will be another tool to fight drug abuse, in addition to counseling and intervention programs already available, he added.

Positive results will go directly to a guidance counselor, who will notify parents and initiate intervention, said Wolfgram. Other teachers, coaches and advisers for extracurricular activities will not be notified of positive results, and the student will not be banned from participation. Law enforcement also will not be alerted.

“We (administrators) won’t even know if someone is positive,” he stated.

Although the Lutheran West initiative stresses wellness and health, there is a punitive aspect, with multiple positive results possibly resulting in expulsion. “The testing could be repeated six to eight months apart. If in that amount of time no effort has been taken to become clean, the student could be asked to leave,” he stated.

Testing will take place on a purely random basis, with the school nurse collecting hair samples. Due to the chance selection process, one student could be tested multiple times during the school year, while another not once. Wolfgram said it was this uncertainty that makes the program effective.

As with the other three schools, the Massachusetts firm of Psychemedics will be employed to test hair samples. There was some concern over a conflict of interest last year between St. Edward President James Kubacki and Psychemedics, which is headed by his brother.

With Lutheran West being a private school, Wolfgram said, all students are subject to testing. For public schools, this examination is limited to those participating in sports, extracurricular activities and students requesting parking spaces. According to state law, these students are seeking privileges beyond the school day and are not subject to the same privacy policies.

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