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Archive for Monday, August 19, 2002

Drug tests used for prevention

August 19, 2002

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— The call can come at any time, for just about any junior high or high school student in this southeast Kansas town: You've been selected for a drug test.

For the past two years, the Columbus School District has performed random drug tests on three to five students nearly ever week. The policy covers students in grades seven through 12 who voluntarily participate in any extracurricular activity even school dances.

The school board has made a few slight revisions as the program enters its third year. But the reasoning behind the random tests remains unchanged, and administrators were reassured by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that found no constitutional violations in an Oklahoma school's drug testing of students in extracurricular activities.

The Columbus program was initially conceived in response to strong public suspicion that drug activity, particularly involving methamphetamine, was rampant in the town.

Now, it is aimed less at rooting out drug use by students in seventh through 12th grades than at preventing it in the first place.

"I believe this policy has helped our students in giving them an option to say no to drugs," high school principal Steve Jameson said. "It gives us a way to help them."

Supt. Ken Jones said the urine tests cost the district about $22 apiece, or about $6,000 per year. The samples determine whether students are using a number of illegal drugs or alcohol.

The policy calls for a student to give a sample in a restroom in a closed stall, with a laboratory employee or school employee of the same gender outside the stall to guard against tampered specimens.

If a sample tests positive, a second test of the sample is conducted. Only if the second test is positive is the result reported to the parents, the school principal and the sports coach or activity sponsor.

The policy calls for the principal to conduct a conference with the student, parents and the coach or sponsor to solicit an explanation of the positive result. The student is allowed to present evidence the positive result was caused by something other than alcohol or drug use, but policy states the school district will rely on the opinion of the drug laboratory.

For a first offense, a student is suspended for two weeks from all athletic and extracurricular activities. An 18-week suspension follows a second offense, and a third offense results in a permanent ban from all activities for the rest of the student's school career.

Jones said when the testing started, a parent of an eighth-grade student chose not to allow her child to participate in activities because she opposed the policy. Otherwise, he said, parents seem to be supportive.

At the high school, five or six students have tested positive in the past two years, Jameson said.

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