High school revamps drug policy

Nearly a dozen Franklin Community High School students were caught with synthetic marijuana at school last year, and one of the key reasons they chose the drug was because the school didn’t test for it.

School officials knew their drug screening policy wasn’t working well enough.

So the school district applied for a $4,500 grant. That money will let Franklin schools test up to 20 students per month, and the high school also can make synthetic drugs part of those screenings.

“Our whole main objective is to give students a reason to say ‘no,’” assistant principal Scott Martin said.

In August and September, Franklin school officials caught 11 students who had synthetic marijuana, known as Spice, or paraphernalia with them at school. This was a first for the high school. Usually when teachers and principals found drugs, it was marijuana or pills but not synthetic drugs, Martin said.

Students told officials they picked that drug because there was a better chance they wouldn’t get caught, since the school’s random drug screenings wouldn’t catch synthetic drugs. They also didn’t think they’d be selected for random drug testing. Out of 600 to 800 students subject to random drug testing, nine were selected each month, Martin said.

Students at most Johnson County school districts have to agree to random drug testing if they drive to school, are athletes or are part of other extracurricular activities. Students also can be drug tested if school officials have reason to believe they’re under the influence.

Drug testing and screening policies vary by school district. Greenwood schools, for example, prohibit the use of synthetic drugs but don’t currently test for those substances, Superintendent Kent DeKoninck said.

A big reason: cost.

A standard drug test, which screens for substances such as marijuana, cocaine and opiates, costs $15 to $25. Screenings that test for Spice and other synthetic drugs cost at least $100, Martin said.

With the Drug Free Johnson County grant, along with money from student parking permits that already was used to pay for testing, Franklin can start testing up to 20 students per month and include synthetic drugs in those tests.

The hope is that if more students are drug tested and if they know they can be tested for synthetic drugs, fewer people will use them, Martin said.

Franklin has slowly started increasing the number of students randomly drug tested, testing nine students one month and 20 students another month, and soon school officials will start testing 20 students every month. The high school sends identification numbers for students to a lab, which then randomly selects which students will be tested. But not every student will be tested for Spice. Of the 20 students selected for a random drug test, two would also be selected for synthetic drug screenings, Martin said.

If students test positive, they can lose their driving or extracurricular privileges but still attend school. Students can earn privileges back if they complete drug assessment programs, which can last from a few months to a year, and pass additional drug tests, Martin said.

But if students are caught using drugs or are high at school, they can be expelled. The students later might be allowed to enroll in the high school’s online Franklin Academy, depending on the circumstances of what happened, Martin said.

School officials know they still can’t catch every synthetic drug, largely because of how often those drugs are being created and updated. Last May, Center Grove High School student Samuel Motsay died after taking a synthetic hallucinogen known as N-Bomb, and police had to send samples of the drug to a lab to verify what it was because they’d not seen it before.

Schools work to learn about the new drugs and then warn parents and students about their potential consequences as quickly as possible, Martin said.

“It’s tough to stay ahead of anything anymore,” he said. “People that put drugs out there, they’re trying to do anything to get people hooked. I’m not sure if we can ever stay ahead of them, it’s more about learning and trying to educate ourselves.”

By the numbers

Here are the details of the Drug Free Johnson County grant Franklin schools received to pay for additional drug testing, and what it means for students:

Grant amount: $4,500

Typical number of Franklin students subject to random drug testing: 600-800

Previous number of students randomly drug tested per month: 9

New number of students randomly drug tested per month: 20

Cost of a drug test that screens for traditional drugs: $15-$25

Cost of a drug test that includes synthetic drugs: $100-$150