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LaSalle High School adopts stringent drug testing policy

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LaSalle head football coach Jim Hilvert, left, and star running back Jeremy Larkin pose for a photo at the school. (CT Photo/E.L. Hubbard)
LaSalle head football coach Jim Hilvert, left, and star running back Jeremy Larkin pose for a photo at the school. (CT Photo/E.L. Hubbard)

By Walt Schaefer
For The Catholic Telegraph

LaSalle High School students have discovered hair and drugs don’t mix.

The archdiocesan high school of 685 students — the only school operated by the Christian Brothers in Cincinnati — has adopted the most stringent drug testing policy in the area. Only four other private schools in the state — one in Toledo and three in or near Cleveland —have imposed the testing program.

“We care deeply about every Lancer and are very proud of the positive impacts being provided to him through our drug prevention/intervention program,” said Principal Tom Luebbe.

“It is affording each of our students a structure to lead a healthy, spiritual and faith-filled life respecting his body as a blessing from God, a temple of the Holy Spirit; the reward of positioning himself in an admirable light for scholarship and student employment opportunities as well as meaningful future careers predicated on living a drug-free life; and a clear, obvious reason to say “no” at all times. And, should he make a mistake, we wish to ensure that he is directed to intervention to help him get free and remain free of drugs,” he said

“Drug abuse does not discriminate. It’s everywhere… The heroin problem is out there today, “ said Greg Tankersley, LaSalle’s director of community development. “It’s cheap and people are getting it. We feel this (drug testing policy) is a great way to say we care enough about our kids. We need to educate them about drugs and give them a reason to say ‘no’. We are not, we cannot, take the chance that they are going to fail and get into drug use.’’

The policy discourages recreational drug use at all times. “These young men are not perfect and this helps them make a decision about who they hang with,” he said.

“It is now mandatory to have an annual drug screening. Last semester was the first semester requiring mandatory drug testing participation. To be a student here, you have to sign off on it; mom and dad have to sign off on it. To go to La Salle, it is part of our culture. We had 100 percent of the student body tested in the first semester and it was the first time that we’ve done that,” Tankersley said.

Hair provides the most comprehensive drug testing.

“We use hair. It gives you a 90-day-plus window (before drugs are eliminated from the body). The school tests for all opiates, including heroin, as well as all other commonly abused drugs including marijuana. “We test 100 percent (of the student body). It doesn’t matter if you’re in a sport, if you’re in band. If you you’re here, you’re going to do it,” Tankersley said. “The public schools can only drug test if you want to play a sport or extracurricular and they only drug test using urine. They only do it one time.”

There are clear reasons why LaSalle tests.

“Being a Catholic school, your body is a temple of God. This teaches these kids that God has blessed us and we need to recognize the body is a symbol of God’s blessing.  So, it is consistent with our faith,” Tankersley said.

“There are more than 250 schools around the United States that do this. We are not breaking new ground nationally. We are breaking new ground in Southwest Ohio to give our kids a clear and obvious reason to say no. They cannot say, ‘My parents won’t find out’ when you’re being tested. And we’re doing it as stringently as possible so the kids are going to say no. It becomes a safe ‘out’ for them. They can say, ‘We go La Salle High School so we don’t do that (drug).  We are drug tested.’ Parents find out if they test positive. That’s the way to process works,” Tankersley said.

“We believe in La Salle’s drug testing program whole heartedly. With the pressures and worldly troubles, drug use seems to be spiraling out of control,” said Renee and Steve Sams of Fairfield in an email to the Catholic Telegraph. Their son Andrew is a LaSalle student.

“Even if your child is strong-willed and has strong character, the peer pressures of drug use can be overwhelming… As parents we like to think we know our kids; however, you really never know if they are making the right decisions. With La Salle’s program you know without a doubt if they are making the right decisions… If they do make a bad decision, La Salle gives them a second chance to make the right decision. It takes a village to raise a child and this is one more useful tool to help us.”

Jeremy Larkin, a student and star football running back, said: “The new drug testing policy is great. It is another way the school is encouraging us, as students, to not only make good choices but to make the right choices.”

Dan Fleming, head basketball coach, noted, “Our students are making the right choices not only in school but outside school. No doubt it is tougher being a teenager today but it is a good sign… (to see) so many of our young men making really good choices.”

The school has retained an outside testing agency.

“This company does this for a lot of people. They take a little clip of hair off the back of your head. There is a chain of custody. Kids sign; the parents know,” Tankersley said. Students “are given a number – no names – and when the results are sent back everything is confidential. The principal knows. If there’s a problem, parents and student meet with the principal.”

The Coalition for a Drug-Free Greater Cincinnati notes anywhere from 30 to 40 percent of kids are going to try marijuana at least once or twice in high school.” Tankersley said. “We had one half of one percent and the only thing they tested positive for is marijuana.”

Students who fail the test are required to meet with the principal with their parents. A second positive test results in mandatory expulsion from the school, Tankersley explained.

“We live in a world and social milieu that is constantly changing and social demanding,” said Chris Winiarski, director of campus ministry at LaSalle and an alumnus. Our founder, St. John Baptist de La Salle, is the patron saint of teachers who established a model of teaching young people with deep and authentic concern. His method of educating the whole person – mind, body and spirit – has set a model for others to follow.

“As a Catholic school within the LaSallian tradition, we teach our students in this same spirit and with deep concern for their well-being. In partnership with parents, we build a healthy and vibrant community where young men are both challenged and supported to make healthy choices and to treat their body as a gift from God; a temple of the Holy Spirit.”

This article originally appeared in the September 2015 print edition of The Catholic Telegraph.

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