Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Coalition proposes student drug testing

Anti-drug organization pitches idea to school board


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

Terry Basolo

The Blaine County Community Drug Coalition is proposing that a policy for mandatory student drug testing be implemented in the Blaine County School District.

The idea was suggested Friday at a special meeting of the school board, where Drug Coalition representatives discussed a high rate of drug and alcohol use by district students, particularly at Wood River High School.

Drug Coalition Executive Director Terry Basolo described student drug use in Blaine County as "epidemic" and said it is "one and a half to double" state and national averages.

In a survey conducted last May, Basolo said 66 percent of Wood River High School students admitted to using alcohol within 30 days of when the survey was administered and 40 percent acknowledged they'd used marijuana within the same period of time.

"Two-thirds of the class reports using alcohol over the last 30 days," Basolo said.

Alcohol and marijuana use was not significantly higher overall among Blaine County students than it was in surveys conducted in 2008 and 2009, but Basolo said substance abuse still remains "phenomenally higher" than state levels.

A protocol for drug testing would need to be developed and approved, but David Horras, Drug Coalition Idaho Drug Free Youth coordinator, said it could easily include alcohol testing. Other parameters, as to which students could be included, would have to be developed.

The School District currently has no drug testing program, but has a requirement that student athletes abstain from drug and alcohol use.

Jay Hedrick, Community Mobilizer/Drug Free Communities Project coordinator for the Drug Coalition, told the board that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that mandatory drug testing can be conducted for any student, not just athletes, involved in any school extracurricular activity. District Assistant Superintendent John Blackman said that if adopted under those guidelines, drug testing would affect 60 percent of the high school student population.

"It's a legal way to help reduce adolescents' using drugs," Hedrick said. "It gives a child a convenient way to say 'no.'"

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Hedrick said that Wood River High School students currently have a reputation elsewhere in the state as "stoners" and that implementing drug testing would help improve that reputation.

"Drug testing goes on in the world and it will continue to go on and it's something that kids need to get used to," he said.

Hedrick noted that drug testing for students involved in extracurricular activities has already been implemented in the Camas, Cassia, Jerome, Minidoka and Twin Falls school districts with little to no community or student opposition.

He also said new studies are showing negative effects that adolescent drug and alcohol use have on brain development.

"It's a health issue, not a moral issue," Hedrick said.

Tom Bailey, principal at Hailey Elementary School and president of the Drug Coalition governing board, said drug testing would be only one tool to help reduce student drug and alcohol use. Mentoring, counseling and education are also important factors.

"This is just one piece—we need to move in all different areas to eradicate the problem," Bailey said.

Drug Coalition representatives told the school board that the problem is exacerbated in Blaine County because of the ready availability of drugs, particularly alcohol, and because of public sentiment that doesn't see drug and alcohol abuse as a problem.

"We fundamentally believe that we can change the culture of this valley," said Blaine County Commissioner Larry Schoen, a member of the Drug Coalition governing board. "What we're asking is, are you really willing to take the steps to change the culture of youth alcohol and drug use in this valley?"

The school board took no action on the Drug Coalition proposal, but seemed agreeable to considering the suggestion.

Basolo told the school board that the problem is larger than just drug and alcohol use among students.

"The School District doesn't have a drug problem, the community has a drug problem," Basolo said.

Terry Smith: tsmith@mtexpress.com




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