Testing, canines draw support at drug forum

About 60 attend 'community café' discussion at RF Center


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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

The use of drug-sniffing dogs and random drug testing of Oak Park and River Forest High School students drew support among the 60 people attending a community substance abuse forum Wednesday night at River Forest Community Center.

The forum was put together by a parent committee formed following the drug forums in the spring and summer. The event was among several "community café" discussions that have taken place in Oak Park and River Forest this fall.

Guest speakers Wednesday included counselors and consultants who work to help other school districts in the Chicago area remedy drug issues. The attendees sat in roundtable groups to discuss the night's topics — the effectiveness of drug testing, drug sniffing dogs and a closed campus — in combating substance abuse among students.

Drug testing of students, either random or comprehensive, was supported by many, along with using canines to search lockers and parking lots. Concerns about using dogs involved logistical issues, such as how long would it take. Closing the school campus drew support, though logistical questions were raised here as well.

River Forest Police Ofc. Michael Thornley was among the roundtable participants but spoke briefly to the audience about using canines. River Forest's schools have not used them, nor has Oak Park and River Forest High School. Thornley, though, said a school would basically be locked down before dogs are brought in. Lockers and parking lots, including where faculty members park, would be searched. Students would be barred from being in those areas while the canines are present, Thornley explained.

"If you were going to bring in police dogs to do that, you cannot have the students intermixing with the dogs," he said. "The dogs are not trained to be nice about those kinds of interactions. You can try to keep them apart, but there will always be a safety question for the students."

For a school as large as OPRF — roughly 3,500 students — Thornley said it would take five to six dogs and 10 to 12 officers. The school board, however, would have to approve using drug-detecting canines.

Thornley knows of schools that bring in dogs twice a school year, one time per semester, and the searches are random and never announced to students. As for OPRF doing that, he said, "My only statement toward that would be, if the school were to decide to do this, you may want to use police dogs, because you're making a statement as a community that this is not tolerated in our school. That's what you're really doing.

"When you bring in that kind of show of force, you're announcing to everybody that this is not going to be tolerated here where our children learn."

Some roundtable participants noted that students who are carrying drugs might stash them outside or not even enter the building with them. Other participants noted that some parents might strongly oppose canine searches and drug testing as a violation of their students' rights.

Thornley addressed that, saying that students do have a reasonable expectation of privacy when it comes to lockers or bags on their person. The school's student code of conduct also allows searchers under specified circumstances.

Another speaker, Diane Busch, a consultant who works with schools in developing comprehensive anti-drug programs, spoke about the use of drug testing. Busch has worked with such schools as Lyons Township and Downers Grove high schools. Busch said the schools saw a dramatic drop in substance abuse among students because of testing. Canines and breathalyzers also proved effective. Busch and other speakers, and some roundtable participants, stressed that the programs were not punitive, but preventive.

"I do not see drug testing as a way to catch kids," she said. "It's a way to help kids who are using and a way to support non-using students."

The Oak Park and River Forest High School Citizens' Council was a co-sponsor of Wednesday's forum, moderated by John Williams, youth services director for Oak Park Township.

Reader Comments

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KC from Oak Park  

Posted: December 27th, 2010 5:22 PM

PVogel - But you didn't answer my question. Why are you so opposed to drug testing, especially if you think you have nothing to worry about? I also have a child at OPRF, as well as one that recently graduated. I am an involved parent and don't believe that they are using drugs. If drug testing is a deterrent, then so be it. And if, to my surprise, my child failed a test, I would certainly want to know!

PVogel reply to KC  

Posted: December 14th, 2010 9:03 AM

I am involved in my childrens everyday lives. I am aware of what they do and who they do it with. I have open and honest discussions with my children constantly and somewhat with their friends. Every time they leave the house I remind them to make "smart decisions". Anyone who knows me knows that I am not in least bit niave about what kids may do.

JM from River Forest  

Posted: December 14th, 2010 8:14 AM

@Mom of 2: If you feel that the possibility of drug testing will help keep your kids off drugs, then by all means *you* should test *your* kids. But don't force me to adopt your parenting style, or ask that I cover your expenses.

DS from Oak Park  

Posted: December 14th, 2010 8:03 AM

What resonates with me is this: Every child has the right to learn in a safe and drug-free environment. Let's talk about it, then, as a community, make it happen for our kids.


Posted: December 14th, 2010 12:07 AM

Oak Park is next to one of the biggest drug markets in the country, this is nothing new. All this will lead to is even more kids being kicked out of school.

mom of 2 @ OPRF from Oak Park  

Posted: December 13th, 2010 9:44 PM

A lot of kids find knowing that they could be tested, or dogs might be present, is something that helps them turn-down using. Why not give kids who want to stay clean an easier out? The message to them is that your school cares about keeping the educational environment safe.

rk from Oak Park  

Posted: December 13th, 2010 9:29 PM

If parents and kids do their best to decrease demand, and the school and police do their best to reduce accessibility, the that gives us a chance to possibly achieve "average" drug/alc. use numbers in our community. Since the use problem is so out of proportion, it will take a village to keep our kids safe.

Violet Aura  

Posted: December 13th, 2010 5:40 PM

To clarify, there have always been (at least since the '70s) OPRF kids engaging in substance use/abuse. By the way, this includes alcohol. And nowadays I wonder how many kids are on Ritalin and other amphetamines for their ADHD, a Prozac drip, etc., not to mention their parents. With all the Big Pharma ads running, plus rampant prescribing, it's no wonder that these dangerous substances would be accessed by kids and abused. And heroin is cheap and pure--a horrific combo!

Violet Aura  

Posted: December 13th, 2010 5:36 PM

Curious about something: why in the world are parents demanding anything of the school that they won't do at home? They could drug test their kiddies tonight if they wanted to. Or is it the school's responsibility to make sure that these kids are sober? Where are the parents in this? Are they afraid to actually demand things of their children, for fear of not being their "buds?" I am curious what all the uproar about this is. Perhaps the substance abuse is heroin and pills?


Posted: December 13th, 2010 4:52 PM

Hire "Adults", and have them accept responsibility for being in charge. All school employees learn how to identify drug and alcohol usage. If an adult suspects a student is using, the student is pulled out of class and the parent is called in and explained why the student is being suspended for drug/alcohol use. It doesn't take a village to raise a child. That's what parents are for. Teachers fearing retribution can seek bully counseling.

L. from Oak Park  

Posted: December 13th, 2010 2:31 PM

I was at the Dec. 8th Forum & the # of people present was much closer to 80-90e. The clear majority of people speaking out at this meeting were in favor of drug-testing and the use of safety dogs. We recognize that something needs to change when our kids use weed and drink at a rate of almost double the national average. Many parents, like myself want the school to do it's part in helping find solutions.

JM from River Forest  

Posted: December 13th, 2010 9:19 AM

I don't have a big problem with dogs checking lockers or other *school property* to make sure there's a safe and drug-free environment. I've got a huge problem with random testing. You want your kid tested? Go ahead and do it, but on your own dime. Don't ask me to pay for it with my tax dollars. If I decide my kid should be tested, I'll do the same. But don't require my kid to pee in a cup to attend school.


Posted: December 13th, 2010 12:12 AM

Drug sniffing dogs are not the answer and this is why. Students of all kinds smoke pot. Ive personally been through this school and seen Oak Parks top athletes and students smoke weed. What happens when they are caught high and you ruin their acadamic success and or future as an athelete. Let the kids that it affects negativalely learn that for themselves. Their are eyedrops and bodyspray. Teachers can reprimand those who call attention to themselves otherwise let it be. Worry about academics.

Mean Mike from Oak Park  

Posted: December 12th, 2010 9:42 PM

Kids are going to use drugs, that is not the question nor the answer. Keeping the drugs out of the kids faces, classrooms, bathrooms and every aspect of their young life is why these measures are being considered. It is not being a hypocrite to want to keep drugs away from the education of our children. High school is hard enough and most of these kids only learn how to socialize with drugs(alcohol included). How sad. This school is twice the national average for drug use. Wake up !

Joel Lessing from 945 Lathrop Forest Park  

Posted: December 12th, 2010 8:24 PM

I'm sad to see Oak Park succumbing to the police state mentality of the rest of the nation. I guess our liberal ideals turned out to be nothing but empty rhetoric. Joel Lessing, Forest Park, Il

formertrapper from Oak Pakr  

Posted: December 11th, 2010 8:52 PM

I have personally witness teachers use marijuana its a social drug. Maybe this money should be used to show students the long term effects of marijuana vs Alcohol and cigarettes. Also the Police in oak park use their power for their advantage I've witnessed good cops but I've also seen cops take evidence for there personal use.

Former Slanger from FRPO  

Posted: December 11th, 2010 8:50 PM

On 420 I went to school blowed and aced my AP math test. Sounds like a destructive plant.

trapstaroprf from oak park  

Posted: December 11th, 2010 8:47 PM

First of i would like to say that Marijuana is a very controversial drug but if you look at the facts of the drugs there are many other drugs that are worse and are legal for citazens. The school can save thousands of dollars. Everybody gets high in Oak Park students, teachers, and even the police. I have had personally see adults embrace this im tired of people hiding the truth look at countries that have the drug legal they have no crime rates and they have none of these issue.

Former Slanger from FRPO  

Posted: December 11th, 2010 8:44 PM

As a former student of this school I am shocked to read this. Me and hella students study high, test high, and get high scores. Did you ever stop to think that they will smoke more weed in the colleges that you parents pay thousands of dollars for. Kush is harmless I cheifed 5 periods a day my senior year and kept a solid gpa. There are far worse things out there.

OPRF mom of NON-using students from RF  

Posted: December 11th, 2010 11:07 AM

G is right. Most seniors have probably tried MJ. No wonder when it's so prevalent, so the consequences have to consider that kids test boundaries and make mistakes. Consequences should be therapeutic, not just punitive or we aren't helping anyone. On the other hand, one person's therapeutic is another's punitive.

G from Oak Park  

Posted: December 11th, 2010 10:42 AM

And if you think your kids haven't smoked pot before, there's a good chance you're wrong. If they're a senior in high school and you think they've never tried it, I'd put money on you being wrong. Parents seem to think their kids are golden. They aren't. That doesn't mean they're bad kids. Teenage years are rebellious, and if you're preparing your kids for college and the world, high school is when you start giving them freedom and letting go. Their decisions may surprise you for good or bad.

G from Oak Park  

Posted: December 11th, 2010 10:37 AM

If the deans of discipline are still Goodfellow(!), Perna, Wiggins, and Rizzo or whatever her name was, and the OP school officer is still "Pretty Eyes", you're going to see a lot of kids' lives ruined. These guys love their power trips and scaring children/parents for their lives when all they've been doing is smoking pot. Make a 3 strike policy on pot. 2 strike on anything harder. Seems lenient but give kids a chance instead of expelling them and ruining their futures for petty offenses.

G from Oak Park  

Posted: December 11th, 2010 10:19 AM

I'm all for it as long as the punitive measures change. You claim it to be a measure to "help students that need it" but the reality is that you expel them and send them to an alternative school where their problem is prone to get much worse. I know kids who got expelled from OPRF for smoking pot, went to the alternative school, and came back as heroin addicts. It's a draconian measure and does not help the students, but hinders them for the rest of their lives with a very serious problem.

OPRF mom of NON-using students from RF  

Posted: December 11th, 2010 10:12 AM

Yes, our kids have rights, but so does a school charged with the responsibilities of teaching 3200 students. Sadly, we live near one of the largest "open air drug markets" in the midwest so our kids are being sold drugs by gangs who sell to dealers who sell to a student who offers it to other students. Until we have a better way to keep drugs out of our kids lives, dogs and/or drug testing are a way to show that OPRF considers it a priority to keep kids safe/focused on learning.

BD from Oak Park  

Posted: December 11th, 2010 10:09 AM

And for those who are very allergic to dogs what do they do? Be aware that there are other issues to deal with and needs before subjecting our kids to animals. My daughter will get very sick if around animals with fur.

OPRF Mom of three teens from River Forest  

Posted: December 10th, 2010 10:00 PM

@MC @PVogel I have two teens at OPRF and I too believe that they will not get in to drugs or alcohol. Yet I have friends that thought the same way until their teens were caught. We all have good kids. OPRF is full of smart talented teens but they are adolescents and they make bad choices sometimes. Random drug testing is a preventive measure. If it helps kids say "no" to drugs and alcohol I'm all for it and for those kids that get caught well it might be the first step in getting them help.

MC from Oak Park  

Posted: December 10th, 2010 8:38 PM

I am a parent of OPRF students and I find it appalling that the issue of randomly testing students for drugs was even brought up. My children are my responsibility and I refuse to allow any of them to be tested. I thought Oak Park had more respect for it's residents.

Liz from Oak Park  

Posted: December 10th, 2010 8:30 PM

I graduated OPRF in 2002. Since then I've had 2 younger siblings go through OPRF. I can't believe how bad the school has gotten over the years. I 100% agree with dogs in the school. Drugs are illegal. It's time that the school AND PARENTS finally stand up and follow through with their ZERO TOLERENCE. I think if you are opposed to dogs in the school it's because you know the dogs will find something on you.

KC from Oak Park  

Posted: December 10th, 2010 4:37 PM

PVogel - why so opposed? Wouldn't you want to know if there was a problem with your child?

OP parent of OPRF children from Oak Park  

Posted: December 10th, 2010 4:16 PM

While some may feel shocked about the issue of drug use at OPRF, it remains a problem. I have children at OPRF that are getting a good education, yet drug use is visible in and outside of the building. Attending the forum at OPRF in the spring helped me understand the depth and complexities of the issue. The solutions discussed Wednesday PM attempt to prevent drugs from being brought into the building, rather than coping with drug use or overdose after the fact.

JT from Oak Park, IL  

Posted: December 10th, 2010 4:03 PM

They only did that if they were in XP.

oprfalum from Oak Park  

Posted: December 10th, 2010 3:55 PM

Why would OPRFHS want to drug test the students dogs??

JT from Oak Park, IL  

Posted: December 10th, 2010 3:47 PM

I can clearly recall drug sniffing dogs being in the halls during classes at some point between '78 and '82. (Btw, I didn't say anything about random or comprehensive drug testing back then). I don't know if it was a regular routine or just for special purposes, but we were in our classrooms looking out the doors at the dogs as they went through the halls. There was also at least one undercover 'narc' officer ever present in the school. Drugs were a big problem then, but a gigantic problem now.

Violet Aura  

Posted: December 10th, 2010 2:34 PM

@JT:I attended OPRF in the early '80s and there was nothing of this sort at all. Of course, they also didn't have a front desk and a siege mentality like they do now. It's a doggone shame that so many public schools have buzzers so that you cannot just walk in. It's all in the name of "safety," but what is lost in the process? How long are we gonna approach addiction in such an extreme manner?


Posted: December 10th, 2010 2:30 PM

Under no circumstances may you ever drug test my children unless it becomes a state or federal law. Thank goodness she will graduate this year. Drug sniffing dogs and random testing will not stop kids from doing drugs.

JM from River Forest, IL  

Posted: December 10th, 2010 1:56 PM

JT, my sisters and I attended OPRFHS in the 80s, and my mother served as Board President. I don't recall them having either random or comprehensive drug testing, or random use of dogs. There may have been testing based on reasonable suspicion, but you didn't have to pee in a cup to be allowed in the school, which is what the article proposes. My son will be at OPRFHS next year, and I think this is a horrible idea.

JT from Oak Park, IL  

Posted: December 10th, 2010 1:37 PM

There were drug sniffing dogs used at OPRFHS in the 80's-- I also attended back then and have a clear recollection of that happening. It's not new or novel. The question I have is when was it stopped, by whom & why?? Everyone knows drugs are out of control there. We need to get the situation under control...NOW.

Violet Aura  

Posted: December 10th, 2010 1:36 PM

Wow, this strikes me as rather fascist. I would like to know why the extreme measures--what has changed in the climate at the high school that dictates this policy? Like academic success, sobriety begins at home. If Mommy and Daddy like to get blotto frequently, they are sending a message to their kiddies.

S.N from Oak Park  

Posted: December 10th, 2010 11:16 AM

I attended OPRF however I graduated from a school in Philly. They had the canine testing quarterly. As soon as school started they would start in the parking lots and move into the school. By the start of the lunch hours- the people who had been "caught" would already be pulled from class. It would always go so quickly the students never new what was happening until they were pulled from class. There was never anytime to avoid getting caught!

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