Friday, December 2, 2011

School board in no hurry on drug testing

Trustees and Drug Coalition want public involved in decision

Express Staff Writer

The school board plans to take a long, hard look at the issue before implementing a mandatory student drug testing policy in the Blaine County School District.

"We're certainly not back-burnering it," board Vice Chair Don Nurge said Wednesday. "It's a complex issue. It's really just an initial conversation going on. We're going to have more meetings on this. We feel it is of utmost importance to get the community involved. Some parents think drug testing is great, and other parents don't want their kids touched."

Assistant Superintendent John Blackman said the administration is waiting for direction from the school board.

"We're not developing a policy at this point," Blackman said. "The board's just chewing on it now. It's not going to be on the December agenda."

The possibility of mandatory student drug testing was raised by the Blaine County Community Drug Coalition at a meeting with the school board on Nov. 18.

Drug Coalition Executive Director Terry Basolo said Wednesday that the Drug Coalition is suggesting that mandatory drug testing be implemented for any student involved in extracurricular activities and would not be applied to the whole student body. Decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court have allowed student drug testing for not only athletes but for other students involved in activities such as band and choir.

If implemented as suggested by the Drug Coalition, the policy would affect about 60 percent of Wood River High School's student population.

The Drug Coalition is suggesting drug testing because of higher than state and national averages for alcohol and marijuana use among students at the high school. A survey conducted last May showed that 66 percent of Wood River High School students admitted to using alcohol within 30 days of when the survey was administered and that 40 percent acknowledged they'd used marijuana within the same time period.

"Nothing's imminent," Basolo said. "But the mission of the Drug Coalition is to reduce drug and alcohol abuse. It's not a moral issue, it's a public health and safety issue.

"I think the next step is the Drug Coalition will hold a town hall meeting this spring. We really want to bring the community to the debate, because it really is a community issue. We want the school board to make a community decision because it is a community issue. This is a really difficult change for the community and it takes a lot of information."

Basolo said the Drug Coalition is currently drafting a testing protocol that could be adopted by the School District, private schools in the county or other organizations that believe drug testing would be beneficial to young people involved in their activities.

Basolo said mandatory testing has shown to reduce student drug use in research conducted by the U.S. Department of Education. He cited a 2010 study that showed a 30 percent reduction in drug use at schools where testing was performed.

"Reducing the rate by a third is hugely significant," Basolo said.


Testing controversy

Nonetheless, mandatory student drug testing remains controversial throughout the United States, and organizations opposed to drug testing have used results from the same study in claims that drug testing doesn't ultimately work.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws has pointed out that while the testing may have reduced drug use temporarily, the study concludes that it had no lasting affect.

The Idaho State Department of Education does not have statistics as to how many schools in the state conduct mandatory drug testing, but several districts in south-central Idaho do have programs, including the Camas County School District, where high school student athletes are required to take random tests.

Assistant Athletic Director Sue Robbins said the program works well in Camas County.

"It doesn't seem to bother anyone," Robbins said. "The parents seem fine with it, the kids are fine with it, it's working well."

Why test for drugs?

Basolo said the Drug Coalition has four main reasons for suggesting drug testing.

He said "health and safety" is one concern because "anyone participating in extracurricular activities under the influence of an illegal drug is a potential danger to everyone."

The second reason is prevention.

"Students will potentially be able to say no to drugs because they will have a legitimate reason—'I want to participate,'" he said.

Third is intervention.

"This is a key one," Basolo said. "We want to help these kids. If a kid is starting to have substance abuse problems, we want to support them, not penalize them. This is to help kids, not hurt them."

He said a fourth reason is to give young people a dose of "real life."

"As these young people transcend into adulthood, testing is the real world," he said. "The current work force for adults is heavily drug tested and trends indicate that this will continue and expand into most work places as an insurance requirement."

Terry Smith:

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