A private, all-boys high school in Kansas City will start drug testing its students next fall, a practice school leaders believe will help students reject peer pressure to use drugs and alcohol.
Rockhurst High School Principal Greg Harkness said the new policy, which was announced early January, came after two years of research and discussion. The debate triggered an ongoing debate about the role schools can and should play to influence students' lives, The Kansas City Star reported.
"It's a huge shift," Harkness said of what appears to be an unprecedented move among Kansas City area schools. "But it's one we need to do."
He said the testing requirement doesn't mean there are extraordinary drug and alcohol abuse problems at the Jesuit school. Many members of the school's junior class were involved in the conversations between school staff, trustees and parents while the policy was being created.
A positive first test won't result in disciplinary action, though a school counselor will hold a confidential meeting with the student's parents. A second positive test would be sent to the dean of students for possible discipline.
Rockhurst officials said they don't know of any other Kansas City area schools that test all of their students, with the nearest model they found being Christian Brothers College High School in St. Louis, another all-male religious private school.
Christian Brothers president Mike England said the school weighed many of the same concerns as Rockhurst when it started testing its students six years ago.
"In our mind, it was a student health issue," he said. "It would be in the best interest of our students to give them a reason to say 'no.'"
Families pay $60 per student annually to cover the costs of Christian Brothers' drug testing. Like in the Rockhurst plan, no one is disciplined for a first violation. However, those who test positive twice are asked to withdraw, England said, which happens three to five times a year.
The Fourth Amendment restricts drug testing in public schools, but U.S. Supreme Court decisions have upheld public school policies that administer drug tests in limited ways. Those typically include students who participate in extracurricular activities or drive themselves to school. Several Kansas City-area schools have limited testing.
Private schools can test all of their students, just as private businesses can test prospective or current employees.
England said support at Christian Brothers for the drug-testing policy has been strong, and more than 99 percent of the tests this year were negative.
Harkness said Rockhurst's leaders decided the testing would be a valuable aid in helping students who live in a world that's different from when he graduated from there in 1981. Students these days are coping with more intense competition for college while juggling after-school commitments and hundreds of Facebook friends, he said.
"It's profoundly different," Harkness said. "A lot is riding on them."