Pubdate: Mon, 05 Jul 2004
Source: Times Daily (Florence, AL)
Copyright: 2004 Times Daily
Author: Lisa Singleton-Rickman
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)
Bookmark: (Students - United States)


FLORENCE - Florence city school students involved in any
extracurricular activity requiring a sponsor or coach could be subject
to random drug testing.

The school board Tuesday night voted to implement the testing, with
board members calling it a safeguard measure for the students and the
school system.

The drug testing policy is still in draft form and is posted for 14
days for public input.

Florence's school district joins the ranks of Lauderdale County,
Muscle Shoals, Russellville and Sheffield in conducting testing.
Colbert County and Tuscumbia districts have considered similar
policies but have not approved them.

Florence schools Superintendent Kendy Behrends said the system hasn't
done the testing because of the expense and potential legal
ramifications involved.

"It's something we see as important, and we thought this is a good
time to do it with so much starting new in August," Behrends said.

"We want to send the message that we'll do whatever it takes to deter
students from using illegal substances. It's one thing to have drug
dogs in periodically, but it's something else to have students know
there's a possibility of a random test on any given day."

She said the school district will have local laboratories conduct the
testing. As for the expense, she said she doesn't yet know the final
price tag, but corporate sponsors have committed to covering those
costs. She said the testing would be done as funding is available.

The Russellville school district will begin its fourth year of
randomly testing students. Other area systems have patterned their
policies after Russellville's.

Superintendent Wayne Ray said students who test positive are kept out
of their activities at school for 30 days. They are then retested, and
only if they are clean can they continue with their participation.
But, those students will continue to be in all testing pools the rest
of the year.

The school pays for the testing out of the general operating budget.
Ray admits it's costly.

"It's going to cost us about $13,000 this year," Ray said. "We adding
steroids to our panel of tests and are amending our policy to include
preseason testing."

Despite the cost, Ray said it's been worth it.

"If we have one kid who's saved because of this testing," he said,
"it's well worth it."

Sheffield city schools began student testing last year, after years of

"I believe in it," said Sheffield High School Principal Ronnie Wicks.
"We're not trying to catch kids, but it does give them another reason
to say no."

Last year, the district tested for 11 different drugs, but that could
change from test to test, and students aren't told what is being tested.

The Lauderdale County school district was the area's leader in student
drug testing. The school system implemented a policy for testing
student-athletes 20 years ago.

"As an ex-coach I believe it's a big deterrent for kids knowing
there's a chance that a positive drug test can jeopardize his or her
eligibility," said Mark Butler, now an assistant superintendent in
Lauderdale County.

"It's all handled confidentially and not even the coaches are informed
of the results, only the parents," he said. "Of all the years I
coached, only one kid ever quit; I suspected drugs, but I never knew."

The drug testing policies in school districts means, in essence, no
pass, no play.

And that's how it should be, said Otis Boddie, the father of standout
basketball player Whitney Boddie, who'll be a senior at Florence High
School this school year.

"It's a terrific idea," Otis Boddie said. "We're a little behind in
Florence acting on it, but I'll be glad to have it in place. We've got
to hold kids accountable."

Florence school board President Andy Betterton admits the policy has
stalled a little in the past few months, partly because so much input
has been sought regarding the issue.

"It's about us telling parents that we're watching out for that kind
of thing," Betterton said. "I know what drugs can do to a family, and
I know kids can get into a mode before they know they're there. The
great thing about this is it's all random and all kids are treated
equally in the process. I'm expecting it to help a lot of kids. In
turn, it greatly benefits the community."
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