Data on drug abuse is prompting Bexley City Schools officials to open a dialogue about what can be done to create a good environment for learning and student wellness.

Data on drug abuse is prompting Bexley City Schools officials to open a dialogue about what can be done to create a good environment for learning and student wellness.

Last year, the Bexley school district took a long, hard look at students' developmental assets, such as extracurricular programs, and risky behaviors teens within the district took when those assets weren't present -- including drug abuse.

Prompted by the data, school board President Marlee Snowdon and board member Carol Fey opened up a dialogue this month, introducing the idea of random drug testing at the high school.

"This is the beginning of the conversation," said Snowdon who described Bexley as having "an open, honest kind of school environment ... not a punitive environment."

While that may be the case, "It makes me uncomfortable knowing how much is going on and feeling as though there must be something we can do," Fey said.

Experts agree that schools can provide a solid support system to help those who seek help -- but many debate the usefulness of drug testing.

Kimberly Brazwell, Bexley's student and community support specialist, said it's not the answer.

"Drug testing would set us years backward," said Brazwell, who has held her title for about a year now. "Is drug testing telling the students, 'We care about you, that your wellness is our priority?' "

She said the answer is no.

Over the past year, Brazwell said she has come to realize that Bexley students do not trust the district or its teachers when it comes to handling drug and alcohol abuse. She is working hard to build that trust through a number of programs and educational opportunities, she said.

"All of my work is to support students, trying to keep them engaged and get them well," she said, citing a number of budding programs including Teen AA, Real Talk Learning, crisis intervention and System of Care, that are beginning to take shape.

"Students have to trust us and have confidence in us in implementing these programs," Brazwell said.

If random drug testing were introduced as part of those programs, "That trust would be ruined," she concluded.

While the programs she has helped introduce in Bexley foster an environment of communication, drug testing is punitive and discourages open contact and trust -- something vital to healing, she said. If trust fosters communication, she said, then the district can learn why students make risky choices and can begin to address the heart of the problem.

"That is the real work," she said

When the district's first Teen AA group met in April, no one attended. Brazwell said a lack of trust -- or a fear of being disciplined -- was the reason for the lack of attendance.

"You are afraid of being punished more than you are afraid of being sick," she said.

Brazwell said she wants to focus her energy on understanding a culture that promotes the use of drugs and alcohol, in dealing with things such as isolation or peer pressure, in an effort to prevent the acts.

"Drug testing captures students after that has happened," Brazwell pointed out. "It's too late."

While discussion surrounding the idea of random drug testing hit a nerve with board members and district officials, there has been no decision on whether or not to engage in the practice.

"The schools, this building, should be a safe place, a sacred place," said Snowdon, sitting just outside Cassingham's lunchroom. "I want this stuff out of my schools."