Parents who successfully pushed for Oak Park and River Forest High School to change its open-campus policy as a way to crack down on student substance abuse are turning their attention to the issue of drug testing.
Closing OPRF’s campus was a top priority for parents, as a way to curtail drug and alcohol abuse by students. The anti-drug campaign began in 2010 by the Citizens Council, a school-sponsored volunteer group. The effort was picked up by a new group called IMPACT, comprising many of those same parents.
IMPACT stands for Parents And Community Together to reduce youth alcohol and drug use.
Along with closing OPRF’s campus during lunchtime, the group supports some form of drug testing of students, either random or voluntary.
Kristine Raino-Ogden, chairperson of IMPACT, said the group hopes to talk with the board and administration this month or in December about how to pursue drug testing. Canine drug searchers, which was another deterrent supported by parents, is also supported by IMPACT, said Kelly O’Connor, chair of the group’s high school action committee.
Drug testing and canine searches are part of an overall student assistance program IMPACT hopes OPRF will implement, O’Connor said.
High schools in Lake Zurich and Grayslake have such a program, she notes, which provides support and education for kids. Those programs also address other issues, such as bullying, mental health issues and stress management.
“This is not a punitive program,” O’Connor said. “Our hope is that we will have more support systems in place for kids.”
O’Connor acknowledged that OPRF administrators have a lot on their plate and it’s more likely her group will bring this to them early next spring. She said her group still supports closing OPRF’s campus to all students, not just freshmen and sophomores.
OPRF instituted its “modified closed campus” this fall, allowing upperclassmen to leave campus for lunch but under stricter conditions.
According to administrators, unexcused absences and discipline infractions are down significantly this year compared to last fall. Administrators credit the declines to the modified closed-campus and other policy changes that took effect this school year. Raino-Ogden praises the school for making those changes. Closing the campus, she said, has been a good step but more still needs to be done.
“Closing the campus was a goal and has contributed to a better environment and improved behavior, but we never thought it was the strongest step in deterring kids. It was one step in a series of steps,” she said.
Drug testing would be a “strong deterrent” to students, she added, not just for athletes but kids involved in other co-curriculars.
“Ideally, it would be random for all students but that probably won’t happen because, legally, there are restraints on that,” she said. “If not mandatory for co-curriculars, I still would like to see a voluntary test that parents can sign up for.
“We’ve always said that that would give [kids] an out. If you like soccer or you like to play music and you realize that you can’t participate, that’s going to make the student say, ‘No, I’m not going to do that.’ We think it’s a tool parents and kids can use.”
Illinois has allowed drug testing of high school athletes during postseason play since 2008. In 2009, the law was expanded to allow testing during the school year. It was a Supreme Court case in 1995 that opened the door for schools to randomly drug-test athletes.