For the week of August 19 thru August 25, 1998  

Board rejects drug testing for WRHS

District pushes for analysis of youth drug problem

Express Staff Writer

The Blaine County School Board has rejected a proposal to implement drug testing at Wood River High School.

During their regular meeting on Aug. 11, board members acknowledged the existence of a drug problem among Blaine County youth, but decided reports of that use have not been concrete enough to legally permit testing.

However, the board directed Superintendent Phil Homer to organize a committee to analyze student drug use, and brainstorm options for drug education, intervention, and prevention.

Members Lita Sullivan, Mike Poehling and Kate Parnes voted to reject the testing proposal, while Janet Askew hoped to table the decision, and Howard Royal voted "non responsive."

The board’s discussion centered on the legal aspects of drug testing, whether or not substance abuse education and programs are working, and whether testing was needed at WRHS. For legal reasons, the proposed testing would have affected only students involved in extracurricular activities.

The school district’s attorney, Rand Peebles, outlined the legal history of drug testing in schools, and explained the legal framework within which the board must work to implement a program. Peebles said the proposal’s philosophy and operation looked good, but the factual basis for implementation was thin.

"Does this work constitutionally?" Peebles asked.

According to Peebles, the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees every person a right of privacy, and probable cause is required before any type of search is performed.

"There’s no question that a drug test is a search, but the real question is, is it a reasonable search?" Peebles asked.

He said the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that within any public school, administrators need only reasonable suspicion to search an individual student or his property. He said the court depicted the school’s role as a guardian or tutor to its children, and because a reasonable parent would ask for a drug test if the parent were concerned, so should the school have the same right.

Peebles said the Court also ruled that student athletes are afforded less privacy than others because they are expected to undergo medical exams and dress-down or shower in a locker room, and therefore could be subject to random testing.

Current policy at WRHS is that students participating in sports, band or various clubs sign a code of conduct stating they will not use drugs or alcohol. The code is currently based on an honor system.

WRHS athletic director Charlie Miller spearheaded the proposal to randomly drug test a small percentage of its students involved in extra-curricular activities each week.

However, Peebles pointed out, despite the fact that the Supreme Court has upheld schools’ right to impose drug testing, it has also ruled that a school must articulate a factual basis for doing so, although the facts do not have to be objective, but student surveys or other data that demonstrates a problem.

"Decisions like this one often raise more questions than they answer," said Peebles.

Each board member gave a brief synopsis of his or her position on the proposal before the vote; overall the board agreed that there is a drug problem among students, and current programs are not deterring substance abuse.

The board supported more education, the organization of peer support groups, and the hiring of licensed counselors trained to lead support groups for substance abusers.

"I’m not ready to put this proposal into place," said Sullivan. "But, I’m not saying six months down the road I wouldn’t support it."

Sullivan pushed the board to re-examine the "zero tolerance" policy that immediately eliminates an athlete for the season if he or she violates the code of conduct. She said she wants to see a program that offers counseling or help, and not just punishment.

Askew said the parents she talked with were in support of drug testing, and hoped that testing would act as a deterrent to drugs.

"It’s a short-term deterrent," said Parnes. "We are not critically teaching our kids not to take part through their life time."

She also said it is important that teachers be able to detect students under the influence while in class.

WRHS Principal Bill Resko told the board members that a lot of their proposals are already in place.

"We’re doing the education part and we’ve still got a problem, folks," Resko said.



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