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Just Saying No to Random Drug Tests

Posted: January 27, 2008 5:02 a.m.
Updated: March 29, 2008 2:01 a.m.
Despite a report by two Hart district administrators that found mandatory random drug testing is neither wanted nor necessarily needed in the district, board members are still weighing whether to implement a drug testing program for students involved in extracurricular activities.

Greg Lee, diversity coordinator for the William S. Hart Union High School District, and Darryl Adams, director of human resources for the district, have been researching the costs, concerns and legal issues involved in mandatory random drug testing.
While Lee and Adams had no recommendation for the school board during a report last Wednesday, their research found that most of the administrators, coaches and parents they spoke to were against the program.
Board member Dennis King asked if there was even one positive comment received regarding drug testing.
"Not one," Lee said.
According to Lee's and Adams' presentation, administrators were concerned that the testing might be divisive, since only one segment of the student population - students in extracurricular activities - would be tested. Administrators were also concerned with potential litigation, they said.
Most of the parents who were asked about testing said they thought it would be unfair to single out the students least likely to abuse drugs for close scrutiny.
Coaches and advisers said the threat of drug testing would only be a deterrent during certain athletic seasons or at specific times of extracurricular participation.
"Very often you will have students who will avoid using (drugs) during the season, then re-engage when the season is over," Lee said.
Board member Steve Sturgeon said that fact alone demonstrated that there is a drug problem in the Hart district.
"There are students out there who are using (drugs), and they're doing it actively while they are engaged in extracurricular activities on our campuses," Sturgeon said.
District suspension/expulsion data showed that less than 1 percent of seventh through 12th graders in the Hart district were suspended for drug offenses last school year. According to a Healthy Kids Survey, 90 percent of seventh, eighth and 11th graders have never used inhalants, and 95 percent of seventh, 81 percent of ninth, and 61 percent of 11th graders stated they have never used marijuana.
A sheriff's deputy from the COBRA Team told Lee and Adams that alcohol is the most abused drug in the Santa Clarita Valley, and it is typically used at home when parents are not around. The typical youth with a drug violation is "disaffected," the deputy said - in other words, the youth is not involved in a school extracurricular program.
After listening to Lee's and Adams' findings, most board members said they were concern that there is a drug problem in the SCV and that the district should be doing something to combat it - besides just drug education.
"Anybody who tries to tell me, and has lived here as long as I have, that there is no drug problem in Santa Clarita is probably on drugs," said King, adding that he was disappointed with the report. "We can have as many education programs as we want, but there will still be drug users."
Sean Herron, the student representative on the board, said the issue of drug testing is the most-talked-about question on campus so far this year.
"I don't think this is the moral thing for the district to do, and I don't think it will be effective," Herron said of random drug testing, adding that all the students he had talked to about drug testing were against it. "I don't think this program will foster a positive relationship between students and administrators."
Herron also felt the money for the drug testing program could be better spent elsewhere. The program is projected to cost between $24,000 and $38,400 per year, depending on which drug company is used for the testing.
Leslie Littman, president of the Hart District Teachers Association, said the cost of drug testing could pay for an additional teacher.
"As we look at budget cuts for this state, I'm uncomfortable with saying we're going to solve the drug problem, but it's going to cost us a teacher," Littman said. Littman said additional costs of the program, like litigation, should also be considered.
"That's probably the bigger cost," she said.
Board members King and Gloria Mercado-Fortine also said they were worried about possible litigation. In June 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5 to 4 to broaden the authority of public schools to do illegal-drug testing on students participating in extracurricular activities.
"What we don't want is for someone to come and file a lawsuit," Mercado-Fortine said.
The members of the audience who spoke during the public comment portion of the discussion were mostly skeptical about the effectiveness of the program. Lee Schramling, president of the Canyon High School Parent Action Committee, said his group has discussed drug testing and "People are not really in favor of it."
"If you're doing this to stop drugs, I don't think it will be effective in the long run," Schramling said.
Ed Espana, who has kids at Saugus High School, said he agreed with student board member Herron's statements and believes that drug testing would be disrespectful to students. He said the board didn't seem to be listening to what Lee and Adams were saying in their presentation.
"People are saying there's no need for it, and even though they're saying that, you want to impose your will," Espana said.
Tim Bullock, another Saugus parent, agreed.
"If it's the minority ruling the majority, we have failed the education system," Bullock said. "If a parent has a concern, let them test their own kid."
The board ended the discussion by asking Lee and Adams to provide more information. All of the board members agreed that community support would be needed to implement such a program.
"If we don't have the parents with us, this isn't going to work," Mercado-Fortine said. "You have to partner with the families on something like this."


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