Drug testing proposed for WHS students


By Jonathan Delozier - jdelozier@civitasmedia.com



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Random drug testing for students who take part in extracurricular activities could soon begin at Wellington High School.

“This is something that more and more schools from around the state and country are doing,” said school board member Daniel Rosecrans. “It is not aimed at employees or staff.”

“The ultimate goal of this program is to help kids who don’t know where to go,” said Dukes athletic director Denny Zeigler. “It isn’t to seek someone out and tell them they’re caught.”

Wellington is not the only district seeking to test students.

Two weeks ago, Firelands Schools superintendent Mike Von Gunten said he wants to test not only athletes and club members, but also any teenager who drives to school. The latter is not being considered in Wellington at this point.

Amherst, Avon, Elyria Catholic, Keystone, and Sheffield-Sheffield Lake already have drug testing policies in place for their students.

“This is a group effort along with the board and The LCADA Way,” said Wellington High School principal Tina Drake. “The board has not seen any specific wording on paper yet and we’re hoping to have that by May.”

Rosecrans agreed the proposal should be ready within the next two months.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of student drug testing in 2002. Since then, conflicting views on the effectiveness and fiscal responsibility of such proposals have arisen.

“We find that testing students who participate in extracurricular activities is a reasonably effective means of addressing the school district’s legitimate concerns in preventing, deterring, and detecting drug use,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote following the 2002 ruling.

Concerns arise when it comes to privacy rights, specifically over the issue of revealing a student’s legally-prescribed medications to the school.

“This will be 100 percent confidential,” said Drake. “We want to avoid going into specifics until the actual policy is drawn up, but privacy for our students is of utmost importance to everyone involved.”

Cost-effectiveness is also a question in a district that recently cut nearly $2 million from its budget. Firelands has projected that its program will cost between $5,000 and $10,000 per year.

Alcohol, by far the most popular drug illegally used by high school students, is generally not part of testing programs. Using breathalyzers at school functions is rare, but not unheard of nationally.

“Alcohol can be detected in urine for up to 80 hours after consumption,” Drake said. “We want to do everything possible to make alcohol a part of our testing procedure.”

Zeigler also acknowledged that there are certain issues that need to be ironed out before the policy is finalized.

“We don’t want to see testing lead to a drop-off in athletic participation and other activities,” he said. “Is the testing really going to be random? Is it targeting athletes? The privacy questions also fall in line with legal issues we’ve encountered while researching this proposal.”

According to Zeigler, districts that have recently started testing, such as Avon Lake and Black River, have not seen a drop in athletic participation.

A grant proposal is being worked out for the funding. However, if the program is put in place before the grant, parents could be asked to foot the bill until the new funding comes in. Usually testing kits are around $15 each.

The American Academy of Pediatrics opposes testing students. “The AAP supports effective substance abuse services in schools but opposes widespread implementation of drug testing as a means of achieving substance abuse intervention goals because of the lack of evidence for its effectiveness,” it wrote.

“Because of the conflicting findings on student drug testing, more research is needed,” and “drug testing should never be undertaken as a stand-alone response to a drug problem,” said a statement by the National Institutes on Drug Abuse.

The number of public high schools running random tests rose from 14 percent in 2006 to 18 percent in 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ohio — along with Wyoming, Alabama, South Carolina, and New Jersey — is leading the way in consideration for new testing programs.

“This is a proactive measure, and not a reactionary one,” said Drake. “It would be completely random, and not look to target any particular group of students.”

Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.

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By Jonathan Delozier

jdelozier@civitasmedia.com