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HILLSVILLE — A limited-scale student drug testing program at the Regional Alternative Education Center seems to have made a splash with parents as well as educators.
One year after its inception, educator Wade Meredith, who's in charge of the alternative school on Oak Street in Hillsville, gave a report to the Carroll County School Board on how the drug intervention program is going.
"We have tested 26 students so far at the RAE Center," he said on Tuesday. "And of those 26, 20 were negative, which means they were free of drugs, and six were positive, which means they had signs of recent drug use."
The most prevalent drug being used is marijuana, he added.
Students that tested positive for drugs went to six-week counseling sessions and, after that, none of the re-tests showed drugs in the students' systems.
"They've all cleaned up their act so far — that's why none have been brought before you with a recommendation of expulsion," Meredith noted.
The information about drug testing is confidential, he explained. Parents receive notification about testing ahead of time and can choose to be present if they desire.
None of the parents have objected to their children being tested, Meredith said. Under the rules, a student refusing to take a drug test would be considered a negative result and they would have to go to counseling.
"The parents have accepted this much better than I expected," he said.
It helps the students give their peers an answer when illegal drugs are available for use, Meredith said. The students can tell other youth that they don't want to participate in drug parties because there's a possibility they will be tested at school.
The system of drug testing has also mostly eliminated students' practice of "studying for their drug test," Meredith said. That involves a student trying to drink two or three gallons of water and spending most of their time either at the drinking fountain or in the bathroom.
Superintendent Greg Smith pointed out that Meredith was a bit of a skeptic when the program started.
Though Meredith expected a lot of arguments from parents at the beginning, that hasn't turned out to be the case, he said. "Parents really welcome the information and the help."
"Can you see this being administered to a larger group of students than what you have?" wondered School Board Member Robert Utz.
"I wish it was, yes," Meredith answered. "I do not think there are many negatives about it."
"What do you have in mind, Bob?" asked School Board Member Harold Golding.
Utz indicated he could see expanding the program, but Smith didn't see that as the point.
It's more valuable to Smith that this program give students an “out” for telling their friends they don't want to use drugs, the superintendent said. They can give the rational reason that they could get kicked out of school if caught using drugs.
The counseling also helps the students, Meredith pointed out. He believes that at least some of the students are really asking for help, but don't know how to go about it.