Random drug tests approved for Douglas, Whittell high schoolers
MINDEN ” Starting next fall, Douglas County high schoolers at Lake Tahoe and in the Carson Valley who participate in extracurricular activities could be subject to random drug testing.
On March 10, Douglas County School Board members voted 6-0, with member Keith Roman absent, to develop a new policy requiring random drug testing for more than half the high school student body, the 900 or so students who sign contracts of conduct to participate in extracurricular activities such as athletics, band and debate.
The type of test, number of tests administered and other details still need to be determined, but board members were adamant about moving the program forward.
“We have a problem, a major problem,” said Board President Cindy Trigg. “This is a life-saving policy. It’s not about money. If it saves one life, it’s worth every penny. We do not want our students to be afraid, but to know that their behavior might have consequences on Monday.”
George Whittell High School Principal Sue Shannon said she’s supportive of the concept. The policy is only for ninth- through 12th-graders, so it would not affect the seventh- and eighth-graders attending the high school, she said.
Board members were also adamant that parents who want to test their children can opt into the program, even if the students are not in extracurricular activities.
“I’m fully in favor if parents or families want to join in,” said board member Sharla Hales. “We want to offer support to those dedicated to keeping their kids drug-free.”
The Lake Tahoe Unified School District does not perform random drug tests on students involved in extracurricular activities, said LTUSD spokeswoman Angie Keil.
The California School Board Association recommends that school boards “first determine whether there is a real need for testing. Such a need can be determined from student drug use surveys, reports from school staff about student drug use, reports from parents/guardians and the community, and discoveries of drug paraphernalia or drug residue at school.”
The Douglas school district is now considering a contract with Sport Safe Testing Service, an Ohio-based company currently working with Carson and Washoe counties. “The company itself does the random testing; they get the rosters,” said board member Randy Green. “There is no coercion or special selection.”
Superintendent Carol Lark estimated each test would cost $27 to $30, but she said thousands of dollars in funding have already been committed by community organizations and private donors.
Douglas High teacher and Block D Lettermen’s Club advisor Ernie Monfiletto said students support random drug testing.
“Support was unanimous,” he said. “They welcome the opportunity to get off the hook. It’s a deterrent, an excuse for them to say ‘no.’ “
“On a Friday or Saturday night, it doesn’t take much to make a bad decision in a spontaneous situation,” he said. “This makes it easier for them to make choices. It’s an out.”
Lark said the tests will cover alcohol use and a variety of drugs.
“This has been an eye-opener,” she said. “Those attending the recent expulsion hearings regarding drug use realize the seriousness of the issue.”
However, there was debate about who should be tested.
“The big thing about extracurricular activities is that they’re voluntary,” said Green.
District counsel Mike Malloy said the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that randomly drug testing students in extra-curricular activities is constitutional. He said the Court has yet to rule whether a blanket policy for all students is constitutional.
“One can easily conclude from the Earls and Vernonia decisions that the DCSD may legally adopt a policy requiring all middle and high school students to submit to random, suspicionless drug testing in order to participate in athletics and/or other extracurricular activities,” Malloy wrote in a letter to the board.
Board members considered testing athletes only, but later agreed to test all students in extracurricular activities.
“It sends a bigger statement,” said Hales.
” Tribune staff writer Sara Thompson contributed to this report.