District adds student drug testing to substance abuse prevention efforts

Lake Travis Independent School District officials have launched LeaderForLife, a comprehensive wellness initiative which will strengthen the district’s current substance abuse prevention efforts and empower students to lead a drug- and alcohol-free lifestyle.

LeaderForLife is comprised of four major components: education, leadership, accountability, and volunteer random student drug testing. Lake Travis High School students in grades 9-12 may voluntarily enroll to be randomly drug tested, contingent upon written parental consent. The test—to be administered via a saliva swab—will screen for marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, methamphetamines, opiates, and alcohol. Should a student test positive as a result of the initial saliva swab, his/her parents will be notified, the student and his/her family will be provided counseling, and the student will be automatically included in the next two rounds of drug testing which will be administered by collecting a urine sample. San Angelo, TX-based Melody’s Southwest Consortium will manage the random drug testing portion of the program in conjunction with district and school officials.

“Our intent is to provide students with an opportunity to hold themselves accountable to a higher standard,” Lake Travis ISD Deputy Superintendent Mary Patin said.  “It is less about punishing students who test positive for illegal drugs or alcohol and is more about offering resources and support to students and their families. One of the factors that prompted us to develop such a program was a concerning level of drug use among Lake Travis High School students after a 2013 survey determined that approximately 35 percent of 10th- and 12th-grade students reported using marijuana in the preceding 30 days, compared to the national average of just over 20 percent.”

Guided by the Lake Travis school board’s desire to address student drug use, the Lake Travis ISD Substance Abuse Prevention Advisory Committee—comprised of students, teachers, parents, and district and campus leadership—met almost weekly between February and May 2015, examining data, exploring substance abuse programs and best practices in other districts, learning from guest speakers, and discussing implications for the community.  In June 2015, at the committee’s recommendation, the school board amended policy which allowed district officials to add random student drug testing to its substance abuse efforts, joining more than 700 Texas school districts that administer some form of student drug testing.

“We have great resources in place to assist our students and their parents with critical services like substance abuse prevention education and counseling,” Lake Travis ISD Health and Social Programs Coordinator Kathleen Hassenfratz added.  “Thanks to the committee, we are able to add the random drug testing component and rebrand our model, resulting in a comprehensive, community-sensitive program that will help our students make good choices and lead healthy lifestyles.”

If a student continues to test positive on subsequent testing, additional consequences will be applied including loss of the student’s parking permit, suspension from participation in extracurricular programs, and completion of 30 hours of community service.

As an incentive for enrolling in the program and maintaining good standing, the district will offer students priority access and discounted tickets for prom and other school events as well as with the opportunity to be exempt from taking one final exam.  District officials are also working with local merchants to offer students a rewards program which may include discounted food and beverages.

“Aside from the incentives and rewards, a student’s enrollment in the LeaderForLife program can be noted on his or her college application,” Ms. Patin added.  “We believe this will give students an advantage when applying for college or for a job. We hope LeaderForLife is a program all students will want to be a part of and one that our parents and greater Lake Travis community will support wholeheartedly.”

Once enrolled, a student will remain in the program until he/she graduates or transfers out of the district. A parent may also request that his/her child be removed from the program at any time during the school year.

District officials will consider expanding the program to Hudson Bend and Lake Travis middle schools in the fall of 2017. All students in grades 6-8 would be eligible to participate with parental consent.

To learn more about the LeaderForLife program, visit www.ltisdschools.org/leaderforlife.