By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer
Hermitage School District administrators are sold on a voluntary drug testing program for students and hope that school board members also see it as a tool for preventing drug use in the district.
The board will vote next Monday on whether to allow administrators to continue developing the plan into a formal policy.
No school board members spoke against the plan Monday.
School resource officer Anthony Moses, a Hermitage police patrolman, went public with the idea in February of creating a voluntary program in which the hair of a small, randomly selected number of students is tested monthly for drug use.
Superintendent Dr. Daniel Bell said the program would not be a cure all, but “yet another step” in trying to curb drug use in students.
“I strongly believe in this program,” Moses said.
Parents would issue written permission for their students to participate, and could pull that permission in writing at any time.
Up to 10 students in grades 8 through 12 would be picked from a pool of participants. School officials would cut a small amount of hair from students and send it to Psychemedics Corp., Acton, Mass., where the hair would be tested for cocaine, marijuana, opiates, amphetamines and phencyclidine (PCP).
The results of the tests would be sent to parents. School officials and police would not be notified of the results.
The confidentiality of the program would be a key to its success, Moses said. Parents would not sign their kids up if there was any chance word could get out, he said.
“If we breach that, the whole program is compromised,” he said. “Nobody is going to trust it.”
The students Moses has talked to have overwhelmingly supported it – which is something that surprised the 20-year veteran of street patrolling.
“When I went to the junior class, I was shocked at how many students said, ‘Let’s do it,’ ” Moses said.
However, the support also is indicative of the high level of leadership among the student body, Moses said.
Administrators believe those leaders will exert positive peer pressure on other students and boost participation.
It will be slow going at first, if the results in Hermitage mirror that of other schools, Moses said.
However, it gets to the point over time where it is “odd” that a family does not participate, Moses said.
Kizak said he would consider the program a success when the number of students participating is significant.
Dr. Morren J. Greenburg, who, as a physician, is obligated to report a positive drug test of a patient to PennDOT, asked if school officials would be under the same obligation.
“If we come aware of that, we would report it,” Moses said. However, the point of the program is that police and school officials not become aware of a positive test.
“It’s a totally different dynamic” from the mandatory testing that Greenburg administers, Moses said.
Solicitor Roger R. Shaffer Jr. agreed, but added that officials should contact the Mercer County District Attorney’s Office for confirmation of that point.
Greenburg also asked about the amount of hair that will be snipped, saying that he would not want students to be able to be identified by their peers because of missing hair.
Moses responded that staff members have not been trained but he has been told by Psychemedics that they need very little hair to conduct the tests.
“I can’t imagine it would be readily seen,” Moses said.
Officials would use a computer program to identify students for testing, and it is possible a student could be tested more than once, Bell said.
“I’m definitely an advocate of the program and I would definitely sign my kids up,” said school board member Robert S. McGowan.
Hickory High School head teacher Rice Whaley said students liked the basic tenets of the program but were worried that parents would be left “high and dry” if their children tested positive.
School officials responded that parents would receive notification that their children will be tested before the tests are conducted, and would be sent a packet of information that includes contact information on seeking help for students. The information also would be posted on the district’s website.
If the board approves the program, district administrators would contact the Pennsylvania School Boards Association for help in drafting a formal policy, which the board would have to adopt.
School officials also would then work on funding the program. The tests would cost $40 each, up to $3,600 a year. Moses is seeking corporate grants to offset costs. Bell said he hopes the district can avoid putting its own money into the program, but cannot guarantee that.