Grissom column: Intervention — Help goes beyond drugs

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 24, 2009

As a follow-up of the recent article about student abuse of prescription medications, many people have asked about what types of support services are available, in addition to classroom teachers and administrators in the Rowan-Salisbury School System, to help students with drug problems.
The next few articles will highlight some of the various support positions within the school system and their role in addressing many student issues.
In the early 1990s, funds from a federal substance abuse prevention program were used to hire the first intervention specialists in the school system. Drug policies and assessment were put into place in the code of conduct, which also solidified the responsibilities of the position for the intervention specialist.
Since the 1990s, the program and realm of responsibilities have grown for this group. The school system now has an intervention specialist at each middle school and each high school for a total of 13 and one transition specialist at Henderson. All are certified in either counseling or school social work due to the No Child Left Behind highly qualified guidelines. As the title denotes, the intervention specialists are present in the schools to “intervene” with appropriate resources and assistance to at-risk students. Personnel such as the intervention specialists can play an important role in helping students to make healthy choices.
Intervention specialists handle all student drug infractions and are the drug testing coordinators at their sites. All high schools in the Rowan-Salisbury School System offer the “CHOICES” Program, a voluntary random drug-testing program. Parent permission for a student to participate is required. Students who desire to purchase a campus-parking permit must agree to participate in the program and be randomly drug tested (beginning in September and ending in May).
Participation in the CHOICES program has been minimal this year. Most of the students who have been tested are students with parking permits. All students who participate in allied health must have a drug test to be placed in a clinical setting.
Monthly, random, confidential testing results will only be released to parents and individuals involved in the intervention process, including the administrator of the school. A positive test result for students participating in CHOICES will not result in suspension nor affect the student’s grades, but parking permits are revoked for 90 days.
However, participation in CHOICES does not excuse students from any sanction outlined in the substance abuse policy if the behavior suggests or evidence indicates a violation of the policy.
Between September and November of 2008, 290 students in the CHOICES program were randomly tested with a 10-panel lab drug screen. Seven of the tests came back positive, three had to be retested and 280 were negative. About 10 students are randomly selected each month from each high school. (Allied health students are not randomly selected. They register for the course knowing they must be tested.)
Advocates of student drug testing share anecdotal accounts of the success of drug testing in reducing drug use. Drug testing can be of benefit not only in identifying drug use, but also the preventative effect of testing in deterring students from drug usage. Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to the effects of drugs, and the earlier an adolescent begins using drugs, the more likely he or she will develop a substance abuse problem or the disease of addiction, according to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
The intervention specialists are involved in more student issues than just drug intervention and testing. The intervention specialists program replaced the previous pregnant adolescent program. Therefore, they are responsible for coordinating school health services for pregnant students and/or parenting students. They often conduct classroom sessions on topics including substance abuse, teen pregnancy, violence prevention, coping skills, decision-making, problem solving, dealing with grief, self-esteem, character development and school success.
Intervention specialists are available for staff training on topics such as adolescent substance abuse, teen pregnancy, violence prevention, grief counseling, dysfunctional families, adolescent development, behavior management, mediation and character development. The intervention specialists serve as liaisons between the school system and outside agencies to provide as many resources for our students as possible. The school system recognizes the important role that intervention specialists play in the lives of our students.
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Dr. Judy Grissom is superintendent of the Rowan-Salisbury Schools System.