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Drug-testing policies on the rise |

Drug-testing policies on the rise

| Thursday, August 14, 2003 12:00 a.m

Standing in line to take a mandatory drug test is becoming part of the back-to-school scene for more local students.

Schools throughout the Pittsburgh region are implementing or considering the controversial testing.

Carlynton is among the latest schools to weigh in on the drug testing controversy.

The district joins Canon-McMillan, Seneca Valley and Franklin Regional as more schools move toward mandated drug testing.

Supporters say the tests dissuade students from experimenting with drugs. Opponents charge the tests violate students’ rights and steer children away from activities.

Carlynton recently tested more than 300 student athletes, band members and drivers.

“It’s becoming the way of the future,” said Michale Herrmann, Carlynton spokeswoman. “We want to ensure we are a drug-free school.”

Students who test positive for drugs face suspension from activities or driving privileges.

“Participation in a sport or being a driver is a privilege, not a right,” Herrmann said. “Students are expected to accept the responsibility that comes with these privileges.”

Herrmann said the testing met with little resistance from students and parents. Some questioned the right of the school to demand drug tests from students.

“It seems to me that the schools are overstepping their boundaries in testing these kids for drugs,” said Max Mahoning, 47, of Carnegie.

Canon-McMillan’s drug testing policy adopted last year applies to all ninth- through 12th-graders participating in ungraded extracurricular activities as well as students who drive to school. Students are given the opportunity to appeal a positive result and ask for a new test.

Hampton School Board is expected to act this fall on a proposal to test students suspected of using drugs.

“I think that every school should look at drug testing that is appropriate to their student body,” Hampton Superintendent Lawrence Korchnak said. “The trend is clearly to drug testing. The fact is that drugs are pervasive in our society. It’s happening more and more.”

Korchnak said Hampton does not have a major drug problem. Four students were disciplined for drug offenses last school year.

He is backing a policy that calls for testing only students suspected of using drugs.

“We’re looking at students who have given us reasonable suspicion to believe that they may be under the influence of alcohol or drugs,” Korchnak said.

Under the policy, students would be given a simple saliva test. The test would be forwarded to a local laboratory. The district would pay the estimated $30 cost.

If caught under the influence of drugs, first offenders face a minimum 45-day expulsion. Students are required to be assessed by an outside drug counselor.

The second offense results in a mandatory one-year expulsion. A third offense means a permanent expulsion.

Students caught selling or attempting to sell drugs face a one-year expulsion on the first offense and are out for good on the second offense.

“We know the consequence is serious, but this is serious business,” Korchnak said. “To some people it sounds harsh, but it’s not harsh. It’s life. It’s a serious consequence to a serious violation.”

Hampton’s drug testing policy could be in effect within the next few months.

Seneca Valley School District is in the second year of mandatory drug testing for athletes and student drivers. Like Franklin Regional, the policy is a broad attempt to curb drug use.

Of the more than 3,200 tested last school year, only 27 students tested positive, school officials said.

Seneca Valley officials held off plans to expand the policy pending the outcome of a Pennsylvania Supreme Court case. West Allegheny school officials also are awaiting a decision in the case before moving ahead with a proposed drug testing policy.

In 2000, the Commonwealth Court ruled against Delaware Valley School District’s random drug testing of all middle and high school students involved in extracurricular activities. The court called the testing unconstitutional.

An appeal from the Pike County district is pending in state Supreme Court.

Contrary to the state court, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that random drug tests of students involved in activities is constitutional.

Legal analysts said the issue is murky because of varying degrees of privacy granted in the state and federal constitutions.

The issue of students’ right to privacy is an especially gray area, said Duquesne University law professor Ken Gormley.

Franklin Regional School District opted to move ahead with drug testing despite the unclear legal landscape.

The district is testing more than 1,000 students gearing up for after-school activities.

The policy calls for mandatory testing of seventh- through 12th-grade students involved in extracurricular activities. It also allows for further random testing.

The idea is to discourage students from experimenting with drugs and to provide early intervention to drug users, said Ron Suvak, Franklin Regional athletic director.

Although some parents objected to paying the $29 testing fee, the policy otherwise met with little resistance from parents.

Most students seemed resigned to the testing, but some questioned the policy as an invasion of privacy.

Chris Henderson, 13, said he would submit to the tests in order to play basketball and football. His mother, Kathy, said drug testing should be done at the parents’ discretion.

The American Civil Liberties Union is calling for an end to school-based drug testing.

ACLU officials cited a recent national study in the Journal of School Health that found no difference in the rates of drug use in schools with testing.

The study looked at drug use among 76,000 American students. It found that testing did not predict the rate of drug use among students, including athletes.

“In light of these findings, schools should be hard-pressed to implement or continue a policy that is intrusive and even insulting for their students, especially when drug testing fails to deter student drug use,” said Graham Boyd, director of the ACLU Drug Policy Litigation Project.

How drug tests work

  • Half of student’s urine sample is sent off for testing, and the other half is preserved by the testing company.

  • Testing is done at labs approved by the government Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration.

  • The initial test uses an immunoassay technique, in which antibodies indicate the presence of a drug or metabolite.

  • If the initial result is positive for drugs, an official contacts the family to ask if the student is taking any medication that would cause a false positive. If the parents say there is no medication that could lead to a positive, the sample is tested again using gas chromatography/mass spectroscopy. These are “100 percent accurate” for a specific substance because material is broken down to the molecular level.

  • The student or parents may request another test within five days from the first notification of a positive result. The preserved half of the urine sample is used for the retest, which the family pays for. If the original test is a false positive, the student will not be penalized and the family will be reimbursed for the cost of the second test.

  • Those who want to challenge both tests or the resulting punishment may sue the district, although the Seneca Valley School District has never had a challenge to a drug test.

    Source: Matt Franz, director of operations for Sport Safe Testing Service Inc., the company doing the drug testing for Seneca Valley School District

    Categories: News
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