Pubdate: Fri, 18 Jan 2002
Source: Capital Times, The  (WI)
Copyright: 2002 The Capital Times
Author: Nancy Hurley, Correspondent for The Capital Times


McFarland Senate's Idea Sparks Lively Debate

McFARLAND - Many high schools today have drug testing programs, but at 
McFarland High School, a new initiative is being pushed by the very 
students who would fall under its rule.

The student Senate at McFarland High School is finalizing a proposal that 
it expects to bring to the McFarland School Board's Policy Committee in 

Should the full School Board ultimately balk at a district-sponsored 
testing program, students hope to initiate a voluntary testing program on 
their own. Superintendent Ken Brittingham said he would support a student 
effort toward the latter if that becomes necessary.

Brittingham said he was only a little surprised that an effort to start 
drug testing at the school should come from students themselves.

"We have a very thoughtful, great bunch of students. They're always looking 
at how to improve the school family and how to contribute," he said.

The proposal is based on the results of nearly 500 surveys that were 
recently returned to the Senate by local high school students, as well as 
on verbal comments made at two forums, one each for students and the 
general public.

The survey results showed that 53 percent of McFarland's 600 students favor 
testing, while 47 percent oppose it. Of those in favor, 16 percent prefer 
mandatory testing and 37 percent prefer that it be voluntary.

The forum results were similarly split, with people for and against the 
idea. Written comments submitted with the complete surveys are also being 
given to the committee.

The Senate is made up of about 20 students, including the four who have 
spearheaded the drug testing idea: senior Madelyn Mauer, Senate president; 
junior Trent Benishek, Senate secretary; senior Elena Goodrich; and 
sophomore Ben Emmrich.

The four are also members of the ambassadors, a group that promotes 
community service within and outside the school. In addition, Benishek is 
the student liaison to the McFarland School Board.

Alcohol and other drug abuse is widespread among the McFarland student 
body, the four say, despite the existence of an athletic code that requires 
student athletes to remain alcohol and drug free.

Without testing there's no way of knowing if students are living up to 
their pledge, the four said, and as a result the code is not taken 
seriously by students.

The McFarland proposal parrots similar programs in places like Oconomowoc, 
where incentives such as discounts at local stores are offered to students 
who volunteer to be tested.

The four said that in keeping with U.S. Supreme Court rulings, that 
mandatory testing could extend beyond athletes to other extracurricular 

To help educate students, parents and community members about drug use, the 
Senate invited the general public to a forum last month. It followed an 
early morning forum just for students, which drew about 40 people. The 
variety of responses showed that people felt strongly on both sides of the 

Many said they are concerned about the constitutionality of mandatory drug 
testing and violating students' right to privacy.

Opponents also worry about the cost of drug testing, consequences of 
singling out students and the detrimental effects testing could have on the 
school's athletic program. And some worry that students will opt out of 
athletics rather than subject themselves to testing, said people in the survey.

Among the comments from students:

"It's wrong for MHS students to bring this upon their fellow classmates. As 
a senior soccer player and hockey player, it would really disappoint me."

"I don't agree that the testing will benefit anyone. There is a very small 
minority of students who want to have drug testing so they can prove that 
they are 'excellent kids' and bring down those who make different choices."

"I don't think this will benefit anyone. I think people aren't thinking 
about the very negative effect that this will have on students."

"A voluntary drug test would be meaningless, as the only people that sign 
up for it would be drug free. A mandatory one would result in people 
dropping out of extracurriculars. A lot of people are only doing well in 
school so they can stay in their sports. Many students' grades may drop."

"I don't think we should have it. It's a waste of time and money. Leave the 
policy as it was and trust all students will do the right things in their 
spare time."

"I think drug testing is going to only serve as a witch hunt among people. 
We are trying to better our school."

And from the broader public:

"I would hate to see semi-at-risk kids lose the opportunity to participate 
in life-enriching experiences due to their fear of being 'caught' in a 
mandatory drug testing net."

Those in favor of drug testing, however, like the idea of holding people 
accountable for their choices and reducing the number of students who abuse 
alcohol and drugs. But many believe drug testing should be applied to the 
staff as well as students.

Among the supportive comments from the community:

"Drug testing is the only way to ensure that the code is being followed. If 
students are following the code, like they should, then they should have 
nothing to fear."

Even members of the Senate found they were deeply divided on the type of 
testing to be done.

Goodrich, who favors voluntary testing, said she likes the idea of 
rewarding people for good choices, rather than punishing them for bad ones. 
Emmrich favors mandatory drug testing because it would require that the 
athletic code signed by students be enforced.

All four agree that drug testing reduces peer pressure and gives kids a 
reason to say no to drugs.

Students say they aren't trying to make the decision for the district. 
Their immediate goal is to inform and educate people on issues related to 
drug use and testing.

Brittingham, who also chairs the policy committee, said the district is 
open to the idea of drug testing and has considered it in the past. School 
officials want to look at prevention efforts as well as drug testing, he said.

Past philosophies for dealing with drug use, like "just say no," have not 
proven effective, he said. That way of thinking is being replaced in his 
district and others by an approach that tries to bolster the assets in 
students that enable them to say no to drugs.

Brittingham said drug use at McFarland High School is probably on par with 
other high schools in the state and an ongoing district goal is to increase 
the number of students who are drug free.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart