Carmel Catholic High in Mundelein to test students for drug use

 
 
Updated 3/19/2019 11:39 AM
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  • Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein will begin testing students for illegal drug use in the 2019-20 term. "Protecting students from substances that negatively impact brain development and decision-making was a prime motivator," Principal Jason Huther said.

      Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein will begin testing students for illegal drug use in the 2019-20 term. "Protecting students from substances that negatively impact brain development and decision-making was a prime motivator," Principal Jason Huther said. Russell Lissau | Staff Photographer

  • Mundelein's Carmel Catholic High School will require random drug testing for students this fall.

      Mundelein's Carmel Catholic High School will require random drug testing for students this fall. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer, 2018

Editor's note: To clarify, Grayslake High School District 127 officials stopped random drug testing students in voluntary programs this year.

In a rare move, students at Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein will be subjected to random drug testing starting in the 2019-20 term.

Selected students will be required to give hair samples that will be examined for residue from marijuana, amphetamines and other stimulants and opioids.

Carmel officials say the policy is not a response to a drug problem at the school. They believe it can deter drug use and identify teens who need counseling.

"Protecting students from substances that negatively impact brain development and decision-making was a prime motivator," Principal Jason Huther said in a news release.

U.S. courts have ruled testing entire student populations at public schools for drug use is unconstitutional. However, private schools can require drug tests as a condition of attendance because enrollment is voluntary and subject to behavioral contracts.

Likewise, public school administrators legally can test students participating in voluntary activities such as sports or clubs, or even driving to school, for drug use. That's allowed because those students typically sign codes agreeing to certain behavior as a condition of participation.

But a Chicago-area civil rights experts calls such programs shortsighted.

"Many schools that begin these programs ultimately drop them because they do little to advance safety in the school," said Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. "Few students are identified through such testing, and the results carry little meaningful impact."

Among suburban private schools, St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights tests students for both drug and alcohol use. As for public schools, Antioch-Lake Villa District 117 and Grayslake High School District 127 are among those that have subjected students who participate in voluntary activities to drug testing, although District 127 stopped testing this year.

Lake Zurich Unit District 95 and Naperville Unit District 203 officials are among those that have considered testing but opted against it.

Carmel, which educates about 1,200 students primarily from Lake County, developed its policy after three years of study, spokeswoman Caitlin Lees said. The inquiry was prompted by comments in parent interviews and focus groups, she said, as well as data about substance use by Lake County teenagers.

The possible legalization of recreational marijuana use in Illinois is a factor, too.

"Our school administration believes that access to drugs could increase for students," Lees said. "Additionally, saying no is very difficult for some students who find themselves in a high-pressure situation."

Testing will begin in August and continue throughout the year. Hair samples from selected students will go to a third-party testing laboratory. Results will be sent to Carmel's principal.

If a test indicates drug use, the principal will meet with the student's family to discuss "therapeutic guidelines" the student must follow to remain at Carmel, the policy states.

A counselor from the nonprofit behavioral health group Nicasa, which is partnering with Carmel, will meet with the student and family to discuss counseling.

No disciplinary action will be taken after one positive test result. Students who test positive a second time will be ineligible for participation in extracurricular activities until additional therapy is completed.

Students who test positive a third time could be expelled.

The only prescription drugs that could show up on the tests would be oxycodone, fentanyl and hydrocodone, Lees said. If that happens, families will be notified without having to disclose students' medical conditions.

Families won't be billed for the drug tests but will be responsible for the costs of any therapeutic intervention.

The school notified families of the new policy last week. It's been a topic in neighborhoods and on social media since then.

Mundelein resident Alison Crawford, whose son is a Carmel sophomore, said she's "totally in favor" of the drug tests.

"Drugs are so readily available to kids," Crawford said. "What if (testing) saves a child's life? Then to me it was totally worth it."

Crawford said she's spoken to her son about the policy and he doesn't mind.

"(He) said that he is surprised it did not happen before now," Crawford said.

If the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves a hair test for nicotine use, Carmel will add it to the program, Lees said. After positive nicotine tests, families will be notified but therapy won't be required, she said.

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