El­gin stu­dents to face ran­dom drug test­ing

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO & STATE - By Melissa B. Taboada

Start­ing in the fall, all El­gin school district stu­dents par­tic­i­pat­ing in sports, cheer­lead­ing, band and other ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties must sub­mit to ran­dom drug test­ing.

The pol­icy re­quires stu­dents in grades seven to 12 who par­tic­i­pate in Uni­ver­sity In­ter­scholas­tic League ac­tiv­i­ties to un­dergo manda­tory ran­dom drug test­ing.

Of­fi­cials in the 4,000-stu­dent district have not is­sued more than 20 drug-re­lated re­fer­rals in any year in the last five years, but the school board, which re­cently ap­proved the pol­icy, said the tests are needed as a de­ter­rent. The district said it will pay about $15 per test.

“We want to be in the fore­front in mak­ing sure we have pre­ven­ta­tive things in place,” Trustee Pete Bega said. “Some of the kids … have a hard time say­ing no to peer pres­sure. So, for us, it was more what we can do as board mem­bers to have a de­ter­rent for do­ing drugs in our schools. We feel in our hearts that we’re do­ing the right thing for these kids.”

A Hous­ton-based test­ing agency will ran­domly se­lect stu­dents on undis­closed dates, said Peter Perez, an as­sis­tant su­per­in­ten­dent. About 850 stu­dents could be tested in a year, he said. “The district hopes to test at the most 50 per­cent of stu­dents en­rolled in the pro­gram.”

The Ge­orge­town district adopted a sim­i­lar pol­icy in 2004. Bas­trop has manda­tory tests for its ath­letes, and the Le­an­der school district started a vol­un­tary drug-test­ing pro­gram in 1999 in which par­ents must sign up to in­clude their chil­dren in ran­dom tests. The Lake Travis district con­sid­ered such a pro­gram in 2004 but did not adopt it af­ter some par­ents and com­mu­nity mem­bers op­posed it.

The state al­ready re­quires the UIL to per­form ran­dom statewide test­ing for an­abolic steroids in high school ath­letes. The fall 2009 test­ing re­port showed that of 3,133 stu­dents tested, two had con­firmed pos­i­tive re­sults. An­other seven were con­sid­ered “pro­to­col pos­i­tive test re­sults,” re­sult­ing from six un­ex­cused ab­sences and one stu­dent who re­fused to be tested.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that drug test­ing ath­letes and stu­dents in all ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties is le­gal.

In El­gin, if stu­dents test pos­i­tive, they will be ex­cluded from ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties for 10 days. A sec­ond pos­i­tive re­sult would earn a 30-day ex­clu­sion, and a third pos­i­tive re­sult would ban stu­dents from ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties for the re­main­der of the school year.

“Our goal is not to be puni­tive by na­ture … but to give them rea­sons to say no,” Perez said.

The district held three pub­lic hear­ings in the spring. Most of the ap­prox­i­mately 100 district res­i­dents who at­tended were in fa­vor of the pol­icy, though crit­ics said the test­ing in­vades pri­vacy and fo­cuses on stu­dents who are least likely to use il­le­gal sub­stances.

Dotty Grif­fith, pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion di­rec­tor for the ACLU of Texas, said such test­ing could de­ter stu­dents from join­ing ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties. And with dwin­dling state fund­ing, the tests will take away money that could go for bet­ter uses, she said.

“El­gin and other dis­tricts who go this route are wellmean­ing, (but) we are concerned whether this pol­icy truly ad­dresses the prob­lem,” Grif­fith said. “Stud­ies have shown sus­pi­cion­less test­ing doesn’t re­ally de­ter drug use.

“We know par­ents and ed­u­ca­tors are sin­cere in their cause,” but they may not get the de­sired re­sults, she said.

Stud­ies show con­tra­dict­ing re­sults on whether stu­dents who are in­volved in ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties and who are sub­jected to in-school drug test­ing have lower rates of il­licit drug use.

A 2003 Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan study found no dif­fer­ence in drug use among stu­dents ran­domly tested and those who were not tested. Mean­while, a re­cent study re­leased this month by the In­sti­tute of Ed­u­ca­tion Sci­ences re­ported less sub­stance abuse by stu­dents in ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties at schools where test­ing was a con­di­tion of par­tic­i­pa­tion than by stu­dents in ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties at high schools with­out drug test­ing.

El­gin district of­fi­cials said their test­ing pro­gram could pro­vide an­other rea­son for stu­dents to say no.

“The rea­son we need it is not be­cause we have such a large prob­lem, but it’s an­other tool for kids to have when they are pres­sured to do drugs,” said Ja­nis Lin­der, El­gin High School’s prin­ci­pal. “It’s like a shield for those kids to use to maybe think twice be­fore tak­ing that step.”

“It’s an is­sue of safety, too,” Su­per­in­ten­dent Bill Graves said. “Kids un­der the in­flu­ence of drugs and tak­ing con­trolled sub­stances don’t need to be on an ath­letic field. And play­ing, it does in­crease the risk (to) their safety.”

Ath­letic di­rec­tor Danny Lauve said that as a par­ent and the high school’s head foot­ball coach, he’s in fa­vor of the pol­icy. His 18-year-old daugh­ter is a cheer­leader and could be ran­domly se­lected, he said.

“This re­ally gives the kids a way out,” Lauve said. “There’s no doubt that if she’s ever put in that sit­u­a­tion, she has more of a rea­son to say no.”

Bega said he has grand­chil­dren in the district and would “want to know when they’re younger if they have a drug prob­lem … rather than when they’re 25 or 26, and it’s too late. That’s why we call it a de­ter­rent.”

Lin­der and Lauve said they haven’t had any calls protest­ing the pol­icy since trustees adopted it in late June.

“We’re an­tic­i­pat­ing good things to hap­pen from this,” Lin­der said.

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