Woodward Academy President Stuart Gulley said the process to strengthen the school’s drug policy began about a year ago when a task force comprised of governing board members and senior administrators began researching drug and alcohol use by teenagers.
“The longer a person delays experimentation, the less likely one is to develop a dependency on them,” Gulley said of task force findings.
The task force also looked at the harmful effects of drug and alcohol use by teens in regard to brain development, and spoke with Woodward Academy families who have been affected by teen substance abuse. Additionally, two schools who have implemented a drug testing policy — Wesleyan School in Norcross and Bayside Academy in Daphne, Ala., — spoke with the task force on the success of their programs.
All has led to the decision to have random urine testing of upper school students. Gulley said essentially, names of students in the school will be drawn randomly for testing. In a given year, he said about 40 percent of the 1,050 students will be tested.
“The testing will occur throughout the year, possibly weekly or on an every-other-week basis of about 12 students at a time,” he said. Once a student is tested, their name will go back into the pool. Some students may be tested multiple times, others never.
“We’re using a third-party vendor in determining who and when,” he said. The firm is called Spec Group Inc.
Prior to providing a sample, students have the opportunity to privately admit that the testing might come back positive for substance abuse, at which point, a positive result will not yield dismissal, but a course of discipline and counseling.
Positive testing without the admission or a second offense will result in allowing the parents to withdraw the student or else automatic dismissal.
“We did not want to appear to be a police state in that the purpose of this program was not to catch students who were taking drugs,” Gulley said of the not overly punitive policy. “The idea here is to prevent drug use to begin with.”
The school has been conducting private open-forum sessions with parents and employees this month to hear feedback, share more information and answer questions, Marci Mitchell, director of marketing and communications said.
The full school policy and list of frequently asked questions can be viewed on Woodward Academy’s website at www.woodward.edu/360.