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Orlando’s Lake Highland Prep will drug-test students

Orlando’s Lake Highland Prep will drug-test students

Lake Highland Preparatory School in Orlando plans to begin drug-testing all of its students in grades seven through 12 in the fall, school officials have told parents.

“We’re convinced this will give us a safer, drug-free environment,” said school President Warren Hudson.

The move is not a reaction to a specific drug problem, but an attempt to improve student safety and wellness, he said.

The nearly 1,200 students in the middle school and upper school will be tested for about 18 drugs, including marijuana, painkillers, heroin and cocaine. The test, which requires snipping a section of hair, does not detect alcohol or synthetic drugs.

A parent would be notified if a student tested positive, and the student would be required to seek treatment. After a positive retest, the student would be removed from the school.

n addition to the fall tests, the school will conduct random testing during the school year.

The testing will complement an existing drug-education program, Hudson said.

“This is a representation of the Christian values we stand for,” he said. Staffers at the school already face random drug testing.

Parents who do not wish to have their children tested will be asked to withdraw them from the school.

“I hope it doesn’t come to that,” said Hudson, noting that most parents have been supportive.

Debbie Mintzer of Winter Park, a Lake Highland parent of a freshman and a senior, said she’s heard differing opinions from parents. “But over time it just will become the norm,” she said.

“It’s like getting your physical or getting immunizations before you go to school.”

And Mary Roh, mother of three daughters in Lake Highland’s Lower School, said testing can be a deterrent.

She already tells her children that nothing good comes from drug use.

“I want to instill fear, and I want the school to do it, too,” she said.

The First Academy, which has 1,100 students in Orange County, began drug-testing students in August. Hudson said hearing about their experience, as well as those of other private schools, helped influence Lake Highland’s decision.

Drug testing is not standard practice in Central Florida public schools, though a 2008 study found about 14 percent of school districts nationwide conducted random drug testing in at least one high school in 2004-05.

Several studies on student drug testing have shown either a small reduction in drug use or no effect. Hudson pointed to a study that stated that testing could complement other drug-education efforts.

Meghan O’Neill, 18, a graduating senior, said many of her classmates were complaining about the new policy. But she said she supports it.

“I don’t think they realize the number of kids doing it,” she said of drugs. And even the threat of testing is changing behavior, she said.

“Everyone’s like, OK, we’ve got to stop.”