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updated: 8/5/2013 5:19 AM

St. Viator to randomly test all students for alcohol consumption

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  • Drug and alcohol testing using hair samples will take place at St. Viator High School, Arlington Heights.

       Drug and alcohol testing using hair samples will take place at St. Viator High School, Arlington Heights.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

 
 

St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights will begin randomly testing all students for alcohol consumption starting this fall, adding to the school's drug testing policy that has been in place since 2007, officials said.

The mandatory tests will show how much alcohol a student has consumed in the past 90 days, said Paige Wiser, the school's director of communications.

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The Rev. Corey Brost, school president, said "the consumption of alcohol by teenagers has been a concern for many years."

"We are a Catholic school. It's our goal to help our young people grow spiritually, emotionally, psychologically and physically, but alcohol impedes growth in all of those areas," he added. "We want to intervene in the lives of kids who are drinking a lot or starting to experiment with alcohol."

Brost said he saw an article about a New York private school that was conducting alcohol tests using the same company St. Viator works with for drug testing and wanted to find out more. He said he doesn't know of any other schools in Illinois testing students for alcohol.

Administrators approved the policy this summer.

At the beginning of the school year all students will be tested for illegal drugs, as they have been since 2007, but the first test won't check for alcohol because of the timing of the agreement with the testing company. A few weeks into the school year St. Viator will start randomly selecting 10 to 20 students each week for drug and alcohol tests, Brost said.

Tests will be done with a hair sample and will indicate approximately how much alcohol a student has consumed over the previous three months. Brost said it won't pick up trace levels of alcohol from Communion wine.

If a test comes back positive for alcohol, the student will have a confidential meeting with a school administrator and his or her parents, and will be required to go through a mandatory evaluation with a school counselor. There will be no discipline for a first positive test.

Students who test positive will be retested in 90 days. A second positive would result in disciplinary action. Brost said the discipline will be managed on a case-by-case basis, but according to the student handbook it could include dismissal from the school.

Less than 1 percent of the current drug tests come back positive, Brost added.

Because St. Viator is a private school, it can implement the policy without having to discuss it at a public meeting or with members of an elected school board. But Ed Yohnka, director of communications and public policy for the Illinois American Civil Liberties Union, said that doesn't make it right.

"Constitutionally a private school is free to engage in whatever level of intrusion they want into the lives of students so long as the parents tolerate it," Yohnka said.

He said he is concerned such a policy could hurt the trust between students and teachers, and that even though the results are meant to be confidential, they could leak out and embarrass a student.

Yohnka sees this is an example of a school overstepping its boundaries.

"The presumption is that this alcohol would be consumed off campus and not during school hours," he said. "We have authority figures that are designed to be checks on children during those hours -- they're called parents."

However, Brost said part of the policy is preventive.

"We want to give kids a good reason to say, 'No, I can't drink, St. Viator tests for alcohol,'" he said.

An online poll found that 88 percent of parents who responded supported the policy, and the letter sent this summer explaining the policy to parents has received only positive feedback, he said.

While St. Viator is the first school in the area -- and possibly state -- to test students for alcohol consumption, Brost said he hopes others follow suit.

"Our kids in general would be a lot safer if more schools did it," he said.

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