Trinity High School | Photo courtesy Archdiocese of Louisville
Trinity High School | Photo courtesy Archdiocese of Louisville

In a wide-ranging interview Wednesday afternoon, Trinity High School President Robert Mullen and Principal Dan Zoeller detailed and defended the Catholic school’s new drug-testing policy in which students will be randomly tested at least once a year for a variety of substances, including alcohol and marijuana. They also confirmed they plan to extend the policy to teachers in the future, although they didn’t offer additional details.

Trinity is set to begin testing students next school year, and officials expect roughly 75 percent of its 1,200 students will be tested as the program ramps up. The policy, which is modeled on one at Providence High School, a co-ed Catholic school in Clarksville, Ind., will be the first at a Louisville high school.

“We’re trying to buy students time to say, ‘Stop, don’t,'” Mullen said. “It can pay some dividends down the road. This isn’t about something that happened last weekend. This is about five years from now, 10 years from now, 20 years from now. We’re educating them for the future, and this is part of that piece of it.”

Zoeller said a computer program will randomly generate students’ names for testing. Students will submit hair samples, which will be examined for binge drinking, marijuana, cocaine, opiates, methamphetamines, ecstasy, Eve or MDEA, PCP and Opana.

If a student tests positive, he and his parent(s) will have to meet with Zoeller and a drug counselor, both of whom will provide resources for the student to address drug or alcohol use. The student will have to submit to drug testing every 100 days after a positive test; Zoeller said the school will continue testing those students for as long as it deems necessary.

If a student tests positive a second time, he may be expelled. If school administrators allow him to stay, he and his family will have to meet a variety of conditions, including implementing a plan recommended by a school-approved counseling professional and drug testing every 100 days at the parents’ expense. The student also would be banned from any extracurricular activities for two months.

School officials say the board approves of testing teachers as well; the impending program has been discussed with teachers, though no timeline has been established for their participation.

The school is contracting with Psychemedics Corp., a national drug-testing firm that will evaluate the tests. School officials wouldn’t say exactly how much the program will cost, but confirmed it would be in the $30,000 range — which will translate to about $28 in additional annual tuition costs. Trinity has an $18 million annual budget.

Mullen said school officials have been considering the policy for the past five years, studying comparable Catholic high schools, including Providence and schools in Indianapolis, Cleveland and Cincinnati. Bethlehem High School in Bardstown, Ky., is the only high school among the nine in the Archdiocese of Louisville that randomly drug tests students. In a statement Tuesday night, Archdiocese spokeswoman Cecelia Price praised the policy.

Trinity officials said they’ve received strong support for the policy from parents and students, although the school did not immediately make any parents or students available to IL to discuss it. Mullen and Zoeller say the policy will give students an excuse to avoid peer pressure to drink or use drugs.

“We survey our students — we have a pretty good idea of their use,” Zoeller said. “This will enable us to have conversations with and identify guys who need to have those conversations more so than others, so I think it’ll be real valuable in that respect.”

Mullen said parents who disagree with the policy won’t be able to opt their son out of testing, and that he doesn’t expect the policy to affect enrollment.

“This is part of our school, part of the way we do business,” Mullen said. “Parents examine our school from a lot of different perspectives and make a decision.”

There are no direct legal conflicts with the policy, as Trinity is a private institution and would be treated the same as a private business that randomly drug tests its employees, legal experts told IL. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics opposes random drug testing, citing research that such policies reduce students’ likelihood of self-reporting use and aren’t proven to be effective.

The American Civil Liberties Union also has studied such programs and found they risk false positives in testing, draw funding from more effective methods to reduce drug use, and erode trust between students and administrators.

“While private schools may be able to randomly drug test all of their students irrespective of any suspicion of wrongdoing, it may not be in their best interest to do so,” said Amber Duke, spokeswoman for the ACLU of Kentucky. “Instead of putting up barriers like suspicionless drug testing for all students, schools should engage their students in meaningful activities. Experts with the National Education Association, the Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry all say that one of the best ways to keep kids off drugs is to get them involved in school and extracurricular activities.”

Mullen said the new policy is one part of the school’s more comprehensive efforts to reduce drug use among students. Asked whether it would undermine trust between students and administrators, he said the school would benefit from student-teacher relationships that have strengthened as Trinity’s student-teacher ratios have shrunk. He said on average, a teacher sees about 60 students per day — the lowest in school history.

“I don’t think this drives a wedge,” he said. “The schools we’ve talked to — it becomes sort of just what we do.”

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Stephen George
Stephen George is news editor of Insider Louisville. He is a former editor of LEO Weekly and the Nashville City Paper, and a former news editor of the Nashville Scene. He has written for various other news and culture publications and is happy to be back in Louisville.