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Kelly Smith, Published January 05 2009

Parents may test their own kids for drugs

Some Fargo middle school students may be randomly tested for drugs next semester – not by police, but by their own parents.

“No family, no schools are exempt,” Fargo police officer Mike Clower said. “This is an opportunity to empower parents.”

Clower – who’s the school resource officer at Sullivan Middle School and Shanley High School – is hosting a parents meeting Wednesday to educate middle school parents about drug use among young teens.

The meeting is open to the public and starts at 6:40 p.m. in the Sullivan/Shanley auditorium at 5600 25th St. S.

Sullivan Middle school is the only school in North Dakota and Minnesota participating in the national Project 7th Grade drug prevention program.

“There’s a need everywhere,” Clower said. “These (drug use incidents) are happening in Fargo. I’ve seen it.”

While educating parents isn’t the only solution to reducing drug use among students, Clower said it’s a large step in that direction.

“Parents don’t recognize it,” he said. “They want to believe in their kids.”

While he understands parents’ dilemma – he has a sixth-grade son of his own – Clower said parents need to know the facts.

On Wednesday, Clower will provide parents with drug use statistics and symptoms, and show them drug paraphernalia so they can recognize what can sometimes be hidden signs. Clower said kids who use drugs typically do so for two years before a parent finds out.

“You think it’s normal adolescent behavior for a while,” parent and Shanley/Sullivan PTO president Marsha Nygaard said. “You ride it out for a while in hopes things get better.”

Clower wants to help change that by educating parents about what to look for; and what to do, even if that means reporting their child to school or law enforcement officials. “Tough love, as they say,” he said.

Clower will give out 50 free drug testing kits to parents Wednesday.

The program and materials are provided by a national organization called Not My Kid, which sponsors a drug prevention course called Project 7th Grade. It’s the teenage years when drug use often starts.

“If you get them in middle school, you actually still have a chance to make an impact on a few,” Clower said. Drug use triples between sixth and eighth grade, he said. “It’s a lot harder at the high school level.”

A 2008 Fargo Cass Public Health survey found that about 18 percent of Fargo ninth- through 12th-graders used marijuana last year. That’s down from past years, but it’s still an issue Clower said needs to be addressed.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kelly Smith at (701) 241-5515