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Five years of drug testing

CBC/SUBMITTED PHOTO Mike England, the president of Christian Brothers College High School in Town & Country, was the first person at the school ever drug tested, under its mandatory drug testing program, which began five years ago. All students have a hair test annually.

More students at Christian Brothers College High School are saying no to drugs these days and the 161-year-old Town and Country school knows that for sure.

It's celebrating five years of annual mandatory drug testing for all students.

Jane Eschmann is the school's assistant principal and administrator of the program at the college prep school.

"In the five years we've done this, we've had a total of eight students who've had to withdraw from school, out of well over 5,000 tests given to students," she said. "We think that's a pretty phenomenal number."

Prospective students and their families are told about the mandatory drug testing. There's no refusal allowed by students or parents, and no one has ever refused, CBC President Mike England said.

Catholic Education Office officials said they're not aware of any other Catholic high schools that have the same mandatory drug testing as CBC.

Kelli Hopkins, associate executive director/board services of the Missouri School Boards' Association, said she's unaware of any public school districts with mandatory drug testing of students.

This school year, 860 CBC students in grades 9 to 12 were given a hair test for drugs in the first semester. In the second semester, about 25 to 33 percent of students will be randomly selected to be tested again with the testing starting in January.

Testing is conducted by Psychemedics Inc., which provides testing for more than 2,600 organizations and 175 schools nationwide. The company has done CBC's testing since the start and ensures accuracy of tests for marijuana, methamphetamines, cocaine, PCP, heroin, opiates, and ecstasy.

Using a small sample of hair, about 1.5 inches long, the test can identify whether use is light, moderate or heavy and can provide an approximation of when the drug was last used.

"The only drug we have seen this year is marijuana, and, of the nine positive tests this year, five were seniors and four were juniors with all freshmen and sophomores testing drug-free," Eschmann said.

Last year, eight students tested positive. All but one student passed when re-tested. The student was asked to withdraw from school and left, England said.

Parents find testing reassuring

In his 23 years as president of CBC, England said the drug testing "has been one of the most positive things that's ever happened to our school."

"Our kids take pride that we're the only school in the state, as far as we know, that does mandatory drug testing for the entire student body and that the numbers are what they are."

Testing doesn't end with the students. All faculty, staff and even clergy were tested the first year of the program. England was the first tested.

Faculty and staff now are tested upon hiring, and CBC reserves the right to test up to 10 percent of its 105 faculty and staff members each year, Eschmann said.

Parents find the program reassuring, while students take it in stride.

England's son, Tom, is a senior.

"He tells me the test is absolutely no big deal," England said. "When he passes, a letter comes home from Ms. Eschmann congratulating him on passing. As a parent, that's a wonderful thing to get, a letter that tells you 100 percent that everything is OK."

Shawn Eagan, of St. Charles, is president of the school's Parent Club and father to Conor, who graduated CBC last year, and Kevin, a junior.

"I think this program is excellent because it gives our kids one more reason to stay away from drugs," he said. "Let's be frank, temptations are out there, and this gives kids another tool to fight against peer pressure.

"Even if kids make mistakes, they're not automatically tossed out because we all want to get them back on track."

99 percent clean

Eschmann said most of CBC's results have come back clean.

Even in the 2007-2008 school year when testing was first done at CBC, 97.6 percent of students tested drug-free, she said. Afterward, the results were 98.7 percent for 2008-2009, 98.8 percent for 2009-2010 and 99.1 percent for 2010-2011.

"The testing was not started to be punitive or because we thought we had a problem," Eschmann said.

However, other Christian Brothers schools across the country were doing such testing, she said.

"The reasons they've done it were like ours, because we care about our kids," she said. "It gives students a reason to say no. Also, between ages 14 and 18, the brain is more susceptible to addiction, and testing takes that out of the equation during formative years of brain development.

"And we wanted parents to know they they're sending their sons to a school where they won't run into other kids using drugs who would take them in the wrong direction."

Eschmann said hair testing, which has always been the methodology used, is harder to mask than a urine test.

"Drugs only stay in urine for a few days, but hair testing gives you a 90-day window of usage," she said. "Also, a hair test is very noninvasive." Hair is taken by a school nurse and sent to the company for processing, with the envelope with the hair sealed right in front of the student.

Parents and guardians are given the results of each test within two weeks of when the hair sample is taken.

Contacts for negative test results are made by mail and those for positive results in person. Students with positive results will meet with their parents and Eschmann, who makes recommendations for help. But it's the responsibility of the parents to help their son change his behavior, she said.

After the initial positive test, the student will be expected to take another test after 100 days where a different result is expected for the student to continue at CBC.

Eschmann admits that even positive drug tests have allowed students and parents to open up lines of communication.

"I get letters from parents saying thank you for doing this, this may have saved my son's life, because they had no idea drug use was going on," she said.