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Jordan Graham/Medill

Students exit Marist at the end of the school day.  Some argue that they should not be punished for actions that occur off school grounds.

Drug testing: Where should school jurisdiction end?

by Jordan Graham
March 10, 2010

Marist Principal Larry Tucker’s message is loud and clear: His responsibility to students does not end with school grounds, and inside his school drug users are not welcome.

Thursday’s breakfast meeting between Marist High School administrators and a drug task force marks the next step towards the seemingly imminent implementation of mandatory schoolwide drug testing at the Mount Greenwood Catholic high school.

Yet not everyone is a fan.

“I think it’s stupid,” said sophomore Brendan Kapelinski, as he sat in a car with his mother.  “What we do on our own time is our own business.”

“It’s an invasion of privacy,” said a Marist senior who wished to remain unnamed.  “It’s not (the school’s) place to test.  If you want to keep your kids off drugs, that is the role of the parents.”

Tucker said he knew there would be some criticism among students.  He said he believes that the burden of keeping kids off drugs lies neither solely with the parents nor with the school, but rather is the obligation of both.

“When a parent drops their kid off at Marist High School, they don’t stop caring about their kid, even though they’re under our supervision,” Tucker said.  “So we’re not going to stop caring about that kid (when they leave).”

In the past two months, there have been two highly publicized Chicago-area incidents involving students from other schools suspended for out-of-school activities..

Administrators at Riverside Brookfield High School suspended two 16-year-old boys for 10 days after a seeing a video on Facebook showing the two brandishing guns and flashing gang signs.  The video was posted in November.  On Feb. 15 an Oak Park sophomore was suspended five days for creating a Facebook fan-page criticizing one of his teachers.

Both incidents were met with some public outcry that school jurisdiction should end with school boundaries.

Joe Schmidt, principal of Saint Patrick High School, the first school in Chicago to implement drug testing, said such testing at Catholic schools does not exceed the jurisdiction of administrators because students pay to attend. Two other Catholic schools also test for drugs.

“If your kid’s going to want to do pot, guess what, this school isn’t the spot for your kids,” Schmidt said.  “[Parents] are definitely involved.”

Tucker said he agrees.

But not all parents are on board.

“I think that each parent has the right to decide what is good for their family,” said Mary Ann Kapelinski, mother of sophomore Branden.  “I have no problem with having the school [drug test], but I have other friends who do.”

Other Marist students shrug off the news of possible drug testing.

“I say if you don’t do drugs it shouldn’t really be a problem,” said freshman Derek Macdonald.  “If a kid is on drugs and it’s the parents’ job [to discipline], then they’re not doing a good job.”

The proposed drug test would be administered by a third party, use hair-sample analysis and would cover the 100 days prior to the test.  It will test for marijuana, cocaine, PCP, ecstasy and prescription drugs. 

Tucker said Marist administrators would work with parents to choose an appropriate course of action in the case of a positive test result, but that if additional tests continued to come up positive, a student may be asked to leave the school.

Bertram Cohler, a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago who specializes in adolescent social development, said he disapproves of blanket drug testing.

“The kids put up with it," Cohler said.  "It’s just one more hassle in their life.”

Still, he said that school-based drug tests are a better alternative to parents testing their children.

“I’m much more concerned when parents are suspicious of their offspring and take surreptitious pieces of hair and run them in for a test," Cohler said.

According to The National Institute on Drug Abuse, 46.7 percent of high school seniors and 36 percent of high school sophomores have engaged in some form of illicit drug use.

Currently the only statewide drug testing for Illinois students is random testing for stimulants and steroids through the IHSA in any sport where there is a state championship.