Archive for Thursday, November 29, 2007

Drug testing

Students question policy draft

November 29, 2007

De Soto High School senior Jessica Pennington Tuesday night gave a word of warning to the committee studying a random drug testing policy for De Soto USD 232.

"If you asked us if we would stop participating in activities if this policy were in place the answer is yes," she said. "It's not that we feel we have anything to hide. If you did present me with this option I honestly feel I would turn my stuff in right now."

Pennington is the Student Council vice president and made the threat with other student leaders including the senior class president and members of the band and debate team at the committee's community forum at De Soto High. Another forum took place Wednesday night at Mill Valley High School.

The Board of Education last year appointed the committee to investigate a possible policy that would call for random drug testing of all students involved in extracurricular activities in seventh through 12th grades. The committee last reported to the school board in June when it was directed to do more research into a possible policy and to get community feedback on the issue.

The committee stressed at the beginning of the meeting that the policy was not currently in place, nor had a proposal yet been given to the school board.

De Soto High Principal Dave Morford said the purpose of the meeting was to get more feedback so the committee could fine-tune what its eventual proposal would be to the school board. A proposal could come as soon as next spring, Morford said.

Several students and some parents showed up to speak out for and against random drug testing.

Wrong students tested?

One large criticism was that only students in extracurricular activities would be tested.

Parent Debbie Hoover of De Soto said in her experience the students in extra-curricular activities are not the students with the drug problem.

"I am a firm believer that if a child is an athlete he obviously has to carry good grades, and he's too busy to do drugs," she said. "I think you're targeting the wrong group. They are not sitting at home playing Xbox saying 'Let's sit back and smoke a joint.'"

The committee has a draft of a policy that is modeled after policies already in place in Oak Grove, Mo., and El Dorado, Kan. The draft defines an extracurricular activity as a competitive or noncompetitive sports team or club. School sponsored events such as dances also would be included.

Parent Daling McMoran, who also works for poison control, questioned why the committee couldn't test all students with such a policy.

"I'm not opposed to random drug testing in schools," he said. "I kind of have a problem just focusing on activities though. I feel like you're almost saying 'We're going to go after you guys and not focus on the ones that are maybe doing it in schools.'"

Morford explained that random drug testing only could be performed on students involved in extracurricular activities because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

One student asked the committee if students enrolled in debate or madrigals class who did not compete would be required to be tested as well.

Morford said the policy only would apply to those students who were competing and doing extra things for the group outside of the class.

Alternatives and cost

When researching random drug testing for the committee, Morford said the subject is black or white as far as supporters and opponents are concerned.

"It's kind of for or against," Morford said. "The question that haunted me throughout when people are critical of looking at drug testing is 'OK, what are the alternatives?'"

Some of the alternatives Morford found included engaging students in after school activities, providing counseling, allowing students access to trained health care professionals, encouraging parents to become better informed and cultivating trust and responsibility between students and adults.

However, he said the district already is actively participating in these alternatives and that the idea behind the policy is to give students another way to say no to drugs.

The committee's largest obstacle is determining how to fund drug testing. Depending on the test it could cost from $15 to $30 per student, Morford said. The committee is looking into getting federal funding through grants to help pay for the cost.

How it would work

Junior Josh Stanley said he was concerned about the randomness of the testing.

"How do you define random?" he asked the committee.

Morford said all students before participating activities would have to complete a form consenting to being randomly drug tested. All students in activities would then be placed in one pool of names. Those names would be sent to an outside company that would be responsible for randomly selected and then testing students.

Morford said the committee was looking into testing about 10 percent of the pool of students bi-weekly. He said the committee had not yet looked into how often the pool of students would be updated to accommodate those who do not participate in activities year-round.

Some students questioned which drugs the testing would detect and whether it would be tested through urine or blood.

De Soto High and Lexington Trails Middle School activities director Steve Deghand said the tests would use urine samples and could be tested for more than one drug at a time. Steroid testing is not included in the policy because of the cost, Deghand said.

Defining the district's intent

Senior Lindsay Grantham said she was concerned drug testing would provoke students to use harder drugs that exit a person's system quickly.

"Marijuana stays in your system longer than cocaine and ecstasy," she said.

However Deghand said that wasn't the committee's purpose behind the testing.

"Our intent isn't to have students do harder drugs at all," he said.

Another concern was the consequences for students who test positive for drugs. Morford said the committee was looking into keeping the district's current zero tolerance policy in place, in which students have different consequences depending on the number of offenses they have had. The committee also is considering limiting those consequences if a student participates in a rehabilitation program.

"We want to stress that the idea behind this whole thing is not punitive," he said. "I don't think drug testing is necessarily a magic bullet that is going to make drug problems go away."

Grantham said despite what Morford said about drug testing being a way to protect students and prevent drug use, it didn't feel that way to students.

"I more get the message that this isn't really a compassion type thing," she said. "It kind of gives more of a suspicious vibe. It seems almost kind of insulting as a student."

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