Pubdate: Mon, 20 Oct 2003
Source: Winkler Times (CN MB)
Copyright: 2003 Winkler Times
Author: Ellie Reimer
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)
Bookmark: (Youth)


After Ombudsman Gives Thumbs Down To Proposed Plan

Winkler Times -- Following a report from the provincial ombudsman's
office, Garden Valley trustees have put the brakes on a random drug
testing plan for student athletes.

The eyes of school boards and students from across the country were on
Garden Valley School Division Tuesday when the long-awaited
ombudsman's report on random drug testing for student athletes finally
hit the table.

And, based on the findings of the provincial ombudsman's office,
trustees voted unanimously not to approve the policy.

"The ombudsman's report concluded the policy does not demonstrate a
compelling purpose for random drug testing that justifies the degree
or scope of intrusion on student privacy," said education chair Sheila
Kehler in her announcement to the trustees, local media as well as
radio and television reporters from Winnipeg.

Review for existing policy

"Since the school has other measures available to promote the health
and safety of student athletics, the ombudsman says the collection of
random drug test results is not necessary and therefore not authorized
under the Act," said Wilkins.

However, superintendent and board alike are not planning to let the
issue of drug abuse among the division's students die.

Will strengthen existing policy

"The board has directed my office and the administration of Garden
Valley Collegiate to review the existing drug policy at the
collegiate," said Wilkins. "We have a drug policy at the collegiate,
and we want to strengthen what is already in place."

In addition, plans are in the making for an enhanced drug awareness
and education program designed to empower students to make good
choices with regard to the use of drugs and alcohol.

Superintendent Domino Wilkins outlined what led up to the receipt of
the ombudsman's report.

"It was about a year ago that I was invited to a meeting with
collegiate administration," he said. "They presented me with the draft
policy and asked me to present it to the board."

At the behest of the board, the education committee presented the
draft policy to a lawyer for scrutiny, and also asked for feedback
from the collegiate's parent advisory council.

"It was around this time that it became public knowledge and drew
attention from the media," said Wilkins, "and that's when I was
contacted by the ombudsman's office and informed they would be
initiating a review of the draft policy under the Manitoba Personal
Health Information Act."

Complying with the ombudsman's office, the board forwarded a copy of
the draft policy, and Wilkins said he was contacted several times for
more information.

Once the review was initiated by the ombudsman's office, the board
tabled further consideration of the draft policy. A report from the
ombudsman's office was received by the division on September 16, a
week after the board's monthly meeting.

Wider implications

Wilkins says the proposed policy had implications for more than just
Garden Valley schools.

"I had inquiries from colleagues from all over the province last fall
that, if this came to fruition, they wanted to see a copy of our
policy," he said. "And the national media was on top of this, as well.
This policy had important implications for students right across the

Several board members expressed their disappointment in the decision
reached by the ombudsman's office.

"The ombudsman's office seemed to ignore several pieces we thought
were very important," said trustee Kelvin Dyck, "especially the
results we had from schools in the United States that have implemented
similar policies."

Trustee Sheila Kehler echoed those sentiment.

"Right at the beginning, we already had reports that some students
said they were going to back off on drugs if this policy would be put
in place," she said. "But that does not seem to have been taken into
consideration in this report."

However, "we are committed to providing our students with a drug-free
environment," said Wilkins. "We will continue to work towards that
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin