Westfield 10th-graders to be screened for drug use in March

WESTFIELD – Parents of 10th-graders in Westfield High School and Westfield Technical Academy received letters this week about an upcoming interview-based screening for 10th-grade students about the use of alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs, scheduled to take place the week of March 14-18.
The screening follows two years of preparation by the Westfield Public Schools, according to Liz Flaherty, Health and Safety Supervisor for the district. Flaherty said the state Department of Public Health (DPH) has a very specific screening plan that requires involvement by school nurses, guidance counselors, adjustment counselors and substance abuse counselors.
All of the district’s counselors underwent a two-hour training with the DPH during a professional day in June of 2015. That was followed up by a four-hour DPH training in November that incorporated intervention and referral for treatment.
Flaherty also consulted with Karen Jarvis-Vance, Northampton Public Schools’ Director of Health Services, Health Education, and Safety, who has run the program in Northampton for the past five or six years as a pilot for the state, and who she said has been “a guiding force and real help on this.”
In January of this year, the team looked at the calendar to decide which week was the best for the screening, and chose mid-March. Following the events of recent weeks, Flaherty said they chose not to change the date after thoughtful deliberation.
“While they’re deeply connected in one respect,” she said. “they’re not connected in others.”
The screening uses the CRAFFT tool, an acronym for key components in the questions: Car, Relax, Alone, Forget, Friends, and Trouble. This tool is designed for youth 14 and up. There is one form, consisting of six questions about behaviors relating to alcohol and drug use.
Part A, which is not counted as part of the six questions, asks if during the past 12 months, a student drank alcohol, smoked marijuana or hashish, or used anything else to get high, including prescription drugs, or things you sniff or “huff.”
If students answer no to the first three questions, they are asked to fill out the first question in Part B, which asks if they have ever ridden in a car driven by someone (including themselves) who was high or had been using alcohol or drugs.
The following five questions in Part B ask if they’ve used alcohol or drugs to relax, if they’ve used alone, if they become forgetful when using, if family or friends have asked them to stop, or if they’ve gotten into trouble while using.
Parents also received a copy of the CRAFFT questionnaire in the mail.
Flaherty said the district wanted to give parents a chance to read the letter and see the screening questions. She said it may also offer an opportunity for parents to open what is often a difficult conversation with their children.
The test is voluntary, and students may choose to not answer any or all of the screening questions, Flaherty said. The answers will not go in a student’s medical records or other school records. The completed questionnaire will also be returned to the student.
The data the state collects is also very specific, Flaherty said, including what grades were given the screening, how many participated, were male or female, and what percentage showed that they might be using.
“This is not a worry that students should have,” she said, adding that it’s paramount for the students to know that they have privacy and confidentiality on the answers they’ve given.
The hope is, if a student does reveal drug or alcohol behavior, he or she might want to get help, said Flaherty. If the student has moved on in the questionnaire to Part B beyond the first question, the nurse doing the screening will ask if he or she would like to speak to a counselor.
“Resources are going to be immediately available,” Flaherty said, and the student will be escorted to one of the councilors or nurses of his or her own choosing. The plan is to have all of the trained district professionals available to speak to students immediately.
Flaherty said this may become a mandatory program in the state. The training was initially offered in 2014-15, and the district took note.
“We wanted to take full advantage of it,” Flaherty said.
She added that the training last November was remarkable.
“It took a lot of people to get us to this point,” she said.
The final pre-screening training with the state will take place on March 11 for the team that will be deployed the following week.
“Hopefully, some of our young people can get some help,” Flaherty said.

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