Monday, April 24, 2017

Granville schools drug testing 2017

Dear Granville Board of Education members:

I am not able to attend the Granville Exempted Village School District Board of Education meeting tonight. My understanding is that you will discuss as part of their 6:30 pm agenda today the question of drug testing and students.

The developing controversy in our village echoes the larger debates playing out across the country. At its heart, the question being asked by you as board members, by concerned parents, and by active local residents is "how can I/we best protect our school-age children from the impact and influence of drugs?

But where we lack consensus starts with that last word. Are we talking about illegal substances, prescription drug misuse, legal substances that are not legal under certain circumstances for juveniles to use, or even legal but questionable substances with a more complicated status (performance enhancing supplements, etc.)? Some say "this is about pot and opiates, c'mon" but there's no discussion on this subject where other ingested materials don't quickly, and reasonably, become part of the debate.

Let me say what I think we can and should have consensus on: we live in an addictive culture. Look at our consumption of media as a starting point. You would be hard pressed to find anyone who can completely and honestly say they've never meant to watch less and ended up wondering where the hour, evening, or day went. Our sleep deprivation as a modern American culture (a driver I would argue for much of the rest of this subject) is clinically and clearly tied to the astronomical increases in time spent consuming media.

You may think "that's pretty far afield, Jeff," but that's where it starts. We can't control our media consumption, our social media use (hi, Facebook! Irony, anyone?), and the time or money or both we spend on movies and interactive games. We are an addictive culture.

Pain relief? We live in an era when fewer and fewer of us work on physical labor or do heavy lifting as a part of just maintaining our homes, but the US consumes 95% of all opiate medication made in the world. Stop and think about that for just a moment. And stepping gingerly past the opiate crisis for a moment, there's another $2 BILLION a year spent on over-the-counter pain relievers, just the ache-and-pain stuff.

Then add in steroids -- and I'm talking about adults, in our community, not kids in locker rooms, for which I have skimpy anecdotal evidence (but persistent tales, to be sure) -- millions of American adults spend billions to increase muscle mass, reduce body fat, to look good, with worrisome implications for future medical costs. But can I just say I know steroid use for cosmetic purposes is not unknown in this area?

If a parent or adult sibling in a home is using substances to manage their lives, the children will see that, and come to their own conclusions. For concision's sake, I'm not even going to talk about cigarettes and tobacco in general -- which juveniles can't use, but the entire village essentially affirms every year after commencement, just for starters -- or alcohol, which is a legal, addictive substance which is easy to get and often used, consuming all of aisle 1 at Ross Market (if you don't count produce, which most of us walk briskly through, anyhow).

Can I say it now? We live in an addictive culture, and we all know it, and feel faintly uneasy about it. (Nota bene: Neil Postman's "Amusing Ourselves To Death" is 30+ years old and never more relevant.)

So when adults want to protect kids from bad things, it's hard to criticize, let alone complain. But I persist in my sense that the drug-testing plans I've heard so far sound like they are jam-packed full of likely unintended consequences. Weed is rampant at GHS, I don't doubt. Relative to other central Ohio high schools? I'd be skeptical of anyone who says they have hard numbers, but while I'm sure it's "worse" in other districts, that's not really the point. Weed and hash oil and edibles are easy to get. I work for the juvenile court, and I have a child who graduated last year from GHS: 'nuff said. But what shall we do about it? That's a different question. I don't think proving the proposition "illegal substances are too common at and in our schools" immediately validates "therefore we must test kids to the fullest extent law and federal guidelines allow."

And yes, I think much of this has to happen in the home. The discussions, the guidelines, even the consequences. And if the home is really fine with steroids and cigars and weekend juvenile drinking (which is not illegal in general under a parent's supervision, I'm not endorsing, I'm clarifying) and lots of pills for a variety of purposes, then you're not going to see any proposal help the kids who need it, or change behavior for most of the kids heading for problems.

In other words, and I could have started with this and saved the whole lengthy (but in my mind inadequate and brief) essay -- I don't believe Granville has a juvenile substance abuse problem. We have a community substance abuse problem, and need to be talking openly and honestly about this, but we can't force much short of law enforcement matters onto adults . . . so we're going to jam tests and implications and complications into children's lives, because we can.

And I humbly suggest that, if we push through the plan (as I've seen it, for parking and non-academic extra-curriculars, etc.), we will be like the drunk searching for his lost car keys under the streetlight, because the light is better there. The darkness is in homes and among adults who don't want to talk about this at all, and are already figuring out how they can help their kids evade this. I hope the plan does not pass; I hope the conversation about our addictive culture and its impacts DOES continue, because it should.

Jeff Gill
120 Bantry St.
Granville OH 43023

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