Elgin students to face random drug testing
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.