By Jordyn Grzelewski
Drug testing of student athletes and drivers for the start of the school year wrapped up Friday, as per the high school’s new mandatory drug-testing policy in effect for the 2014-15 school year.
“I will say we are extremely pleased with the results at this point,” said Jared Cardillo, Boardman High School principal. Cardillo said while many of the results are not yet back from the lab, so far no students have failed.
The policy was approved by the school board in April. It stipulates that all athletes and students who drive to school must undergo a hair test before they start their athletic season or before they can drive to school. Students are then entered into a random selection for follow-up testing that will take place throughout the school year. The policy will affect up to 700 students out of the high school’s total population of about 1,500.
So far about 500 students — between 300 and 400 drivers and about 100 athletes — have been tested. Athletes participating in fall sports were tested several weeks ago, and all the results came back negative. Results from this most-recent round of testing will come back within the next few days.
“The students all knew about this, so hopefully they had time to decide not to use [drugs], so they can participate in their fall sports,” said Kimberly Poma, school board president, regarding the tests showing any drug use within 90 days of the test.
“We feel hair sampling without question is the most-reliable type of testing. It gives us the opportunity to look about 90 days into a student’s past ... and we feel like that really gives us a pretty big window to see if a student did have a situation,” Cardillo said. “Our goal here is not to do anything but to help students.”
Superintendent Frank Lazzeri also stressed that the policy is not meant to be punitive, but rather to help students make better choices and get struggling students the help they need.
“We’re trying to give students a reason for staying off drugs,” Lazzeri said. “Those students that we can reach, we are never going to give up on them. We are never going to have a total ban on participating in athletics.”
Before this year, the school district had a voluntary drug-testing program that largely was a failure.
“Unfortunately, in two years, not one parent signed their child up,” Lazzeri said.
He said the impetus for implementing mandatory drug-testing came last year, when three Boardman graduates died within several months of each other in drug-related incidents.
The program, which is funded by the district’s general fund, will cost between $30,000 and $35,000 this year, Lazzeri said.
“I think because it’s just now being implemented, we will be fine-tuning the procedures over the next few years. But I think it’s going well, and if we can save even one kid, it’s worth it,” Poma said.
As for the large segment of the student body that will not be tested, Lazzeri said there are other efforts underway to reach those students, such as Yes Fest, an annual event that started last year and encourages positive behaviors, and the Emerging Leaders program, which is focused on community service.
Helping others and forming a connection to one’s community are powerful ways to stem drug use among students, Lazzeri said.
“Hopefully, we’re turning out young men and women who can be positive influences on their peers,” he said. “We have to help kids know that there are things out there beyond themselves. A lot of times kids get so focused on their own situation, they forget they’re part of a larger society.”
The board plans to expand the program to include other extracurricular activities, Poma said.
Cardillo, who is one of the people who spearheaded the initiative, said this policy is necessary for Boardman because of increasing drug use among high-school kids.
“I just think we live in a culture where drugs are becoming more and more prevalent. And we chose to address it, and do whatever we can to support our students and educate them,” he said.