NO CLEAR RESULTS ON DRUG TESTING
Sun, 28 May 2006
Daily Herald (IL)
No Changes to Policy Expected, Officials Say
As the school year comes to a close, so too does the first year of federally funded mandatory drug testing in Antioch-Lake Villa High School District 117.
District 117 has built what many educators believe is the most stringent testing program in Lake County. It uses hair samples to make sure students participating in extracurricular activities and those seeking parking permits are drug-free.
District officials say results from the first year are favorable -- with only 11 of 1,271 students testing positive -- but they aren't as optimistic about the tests being a remedy.
"Right now, we may be deterring, but it is hard not to recognize that we are not stopping drug use," Superintendent Jay Sabatino said.
It has also faced complaints from some parents and students for being too limited in its scope -- the number of students and types of drugs tested -- to be effective.
"If the district is going to do random tests then that is what they should be, random, and of all students," said Debbie Walizer, whose daughter, Angela is a junior at Antioch Community High School and an athlete who has been tested.
District 117 officials acknowledge the criticism, but say they have no plans to turn back, with two years left on the $700,000 federal grand funding the drug testing program.
Sabatino said the plan is to continue with the same testing methods.
"We are in the process of crafting a policy over the next two years that will be most beneficial for the community," he said.
Whether the program will become more stringent or change in scope is anyone's guess.
One change being considered is removing students from the driver's education program if they are caught under the influence of alcohol or drugs at a school event.
District 117 officials have begun examining the results of a recent student survey that will be used to develop a drug policy enforced after the federal grant expires.
Those results will be presented to the school board in June.
Beginning this year, any student wishing to participate in a competitive extracurricular activity, or who gets a parking permit, is given a mandatory hair drug test.
The district switched from urine to hair drug tests last year because hair tests go back about 90 days. Urine tests only go back about two days.
Administrators can also randomly test those students at any time.
In addition, drug dogs have been brought into the district's two high schools -- Antioch and Lakes Community in Lake Villa -- on a quarterly basis.
"Typically there will be a hit, and we will open up the locker and not find anything," Sabatino said. "As far as I can remember, nothing has ever turned up."
According to Sabatino, the community has been receptive to the drug testing program.
"There were some concerns about what people's hair was going to look like, and in some situations people might consider this an inconvenience," he said. "But I haven't really heard of anyone too concerned."
Nanci Geweke said her son and daughter were both tested this year at Antioch.
"I'm glad it happened because I feel like now, if they are ever in a situation where they have to make a choice about drugs, they will think twice," Geweke said. "I really do believe this keeps a lot of kids from getting into trouble."
Katie English, a junior at Lakes, has been active in two anti-substance abuse groups, Snowball and Reality Illinois.
While she thinks the drug testing in her district is a positive step, she isn't as convinced of its effectiveness.
"I can tell that the district is making an effort," English said. "But a lot of kids who are using don't necessarily partake in sports or activities."
Antioch Police Detective Daryl Youngs said there has been no noticeable reduction in drug-related incidences since the school district began testing.
"Generally speaking, we were not getting a lot of student athletes anyway," Youngs said.
District 117 is one of only two Illinois districts to receive the federal grant, but it is one of many in the country that has or will use drug prevention measures.
The Office of National Drug Control Policy says President Bush's proposed 2007 budget sets aside $15 million for random drug testing programs.
If approved, that would be a 50 percent increase over this year.
According to the National School Boards Association, about 5 percent of school districts test for athletics and 2 percent test for extracurricular activities.
Still, there are concerns about effectiveness of such testing.
While the courts have upheld the constitutionality of limited drug testing, blanket testing of all students still has significant legal hurdles.
That's because education is viewed as a right, not a privilege.
Jennifer Kern, a California-based researcher for the Drug Policy Alliance, thinks limited resources should be spent on educating students about drugs, not putting them under surveillance in programs that have not been proven effective.
"These tests do more harm than good," Kern said. "It breaks down relationships of trust at school, alienates students and dissuades them from participating in extracurricular activities."
Another problem, Kern said, is the standard drug test doesn't detect alcohol, OxyContin or Ecstasy, giving parents and school officials a false sense of hope.
"The ideological assumption is that drug tests will stop people," she said. "But they do not address the most prominent problem among adolescents, which is drinking."
Kern pointed to a University of Michigan study that looked at 76,000 students in eighth, 10th, and 12th grades in hundreds of schools, between 1998 and 2001.
Released in 2003, it found drug testing was ineffective and there was no significant difference in the number of users at a school that tested for drugs and a similar school that didn't.
Meanwhile, proponents of student drug testing often point to the SATURN Study, conducted at two public high schools in Oregon during the 1999-2000 school year by researchers at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, Ore.
SATURN found drug testing dramatically reduces drug use by students.
Doing What They Can
Nathan Bylsma, who runs District 117's drug testing program, said the district is doing the best it can to curtail student drug use.
"There are going to be some students that chose not to continue to play sports because of the test," he said. "But if you know someone is using, do you want them on your team? I don't mean to sound harsh, but students make a choice."
Bylsma said at the end of the three-year grant the district will decide whether it should continue the testing.
"I don't think we will ever end it completely," he said. "Maybe there won't be mandatory testing across the board. We would likely make it reasonable and cost effective, where people still know they have a chance to be drug tested."
District 117 school board member Kathleen Van Dien, thinks officials are sending a strong message to students.
Van Dien said her only regret is state law won't allow the school to test all students.
Five years ago, Van Dien's 19-year-old son Matt, died after crashing his car. He was intoxicated at the time and cocaine was detected in his system.
Matt's death and a desire to implement drug programs was one of the reason's Van Dien ran for the school board.
"Maybe, as a young teen, drug testing would have helped him," she said. "As a mom, you always wish and hope there is something being done to help."
Testing: District will review policy at the end of 3-year grant