Middle schools offer parents drug-test kits

Ofelia Madrid
When the Paradise Valley Unified School District recently announced that it would hand out free drug-testing kits to parents of seventh-grade students, district officials did it with confidence.

They had surveyed middle school parents about the idea, and the results were overwhelmingly supportive. That’s why Jim Lee, director of student services for the district, was disappointed when fewer than 100 parents from the two pilot schools showed up for a meeting to get the free test.

District officials and notMykid.org, which is working with Paradise Valley, hoped as many as 800 parents would show.

Passing out free drug-testing kits in Arizona middle schools comes at a time when Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is recommending school boards across the county implement random drug testing at the high school level. And the Scottsdale Unified School District is considering bringing drug-sniffing dogs to high school campuses.

The low turnout hasn’t deterred notMykid.org founder Debbie Moak. Plans to expand Project 7th Grade nationwide are already in the works.

Even though parents from Desert Shadows Middle School and Vista Verde Middle School seemed cool to the idea, the phone has been ringing off the hook, she said.

“We’re getting calls from other states, asking, ‘Do we have to wait until fall? We need this now,’ ” Moak said.

The program will next move to Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Boston, California, Arkansas and Rhode Island.

Other states have experimented with giving away home drug-testing kits. A high school near Dallas has given out about 300 tests in three years. A Utah school district sells the kits for $7 and communities in Michigan also sell them. In 2003, a Wyoming school board purchased 100 kits and made them available to parents.

Parent Renee Weiss was recently getting ready to attend the Desert Shadows meeting, when her husband asked, “Why are you going to this?”

Their daughter, who is in the seventh grade, gets good grades and Weiss knows all her friends. There’s no reason to suspect that her daughter would even consider using drugs.

Still, Weiss wanted to get the information and the free drug-testing kit.

“We may not need this in our house, but even if it just opens a conversation, that’s a good thing,” Weiss said.

At the school meetings, parents are given drug-abuse information along with the multidrug test, to use in their homes. The urine test screens for marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine and opiates. Parents get results within 8 minutes.

Many of the parents will probably do what Weiss plans to do: not rush home to use it, but to use it to talk to her daughter.

“We have a great community of kids, but there is the underlying stress to get good grades and social pressures,” she said. “It’s a very interesting age. I think it’s a good idea if it’s used as a preventive measure.”

Students in middle school are under tremendous peer pressure, said Desert Shadows Principal Carol Kendrick.

“I do believe the earlier we can get students to start talking about this, the earlier we can prevent it,” she said. “It’s not that we want to catch the child with a drug problem, but help them.”

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne said he favors the effort to keep students drug-free.

“Seventh grade is the right grade, because unhappily that’s when the bad habits start,” he said.

Horne was school board president of the Paradise Valley School District for many years and helped the district become a leader in the area of drug-testing high school students. It became the first district in the state to adopt a random drug-testing policy for athletes in 1991. The district spends about $21,000 per year testing 400 to 500 high school students. Queen Creek and Show Low school districts also test.

It’s not known yet whether Project 7th Grade will expand to the rest of the Paradise Valley middle schools in the fall, but Moak is hopeful.

“We have left the kits with the district and are willing to come back in and provide the education,” she said. “This isn’t just about sending home a test kit. We want to educate and prevent substance abuse. We want parents to know there are resources for getting help at all different levels.”



Source: The Arizona Republic May. 9, 2005

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