Pubdate: Thu, 27 Jan 2005
Source: Eagle-Tribune, The (MA)
Copyright: 2005 The Eagle-Tribune
Author: Shawn Regan


HAVERHILL -- A controversial proposal to randomly test Haverhill  High
School students and athletes for drugs is drawing both ire and support
from  those most likely to be tested.

"It's degrading that they would want to do that. They are treating us
like we are all rowdy teenagers doing bad things," said student
council president and  swim team captain Christine Fitzpatrick, 18.

"There are some jobs and some places where drug testing is required,
but public school shouldn't be one of them. The students need to be
shown more respect -- not less."

Haverhill High football and track
captain Chris Valaskatgis, 17, said he thinks random drug testing for
student athletes and those involved in extracurricular activities has
its merits, but said it would be a hard sell for students. "A kid on a
sports team might not take a chance experimenting with drugs on the
weekend if he or she thought they might get caught and kicked off the
team,"  he said. "But I also don't think it's fair to be testing only
athletes and other  kids who are trying to get involved at school.
That seems like discrimination.  I'm also worried that it would only
be used to threaten and punish kids."

Tonight, School Committee member
Scott W. Wood Jr. will ask his colleagues to form a task force to
study drug use at the high school and develop a policy for  randomly
testing students in extracurricular activities such as athletics,
drama  and after-school clubs. Courts have ruled that schools may only
test students  who participate in extracurricular activities.

Most School Committee members said they support a fact-finding task force
but are not ready to back drug testing. Mayor James J. Fiorentini said
he opposes  both because he has seen no evidence that drug use is on
the rise at the high  school and because the city does not have the
money to pay for testing.

Since she is student council president, Fitzpatrick is also a nonvoting 
member of the School Committee. She
said instead of testing students who participate in sports and
extracurricular clubs, the city should be promoting  those activities
as a deterrent to drug use. Like Fiorentini, she does not  believe
drug use at the high school is on the rise.

"I agree with the mayor," she said. "Where is the evidence (that drug
use by students is increasing)?"

Wood, who graduated from Haverhill High less than three years ago,
said hard drugs such as heroin and Ecstasy are more available to
students today than ever  before. He bases his beliefs on his own
experience at the high school and conversations he has had with law
enforcement officials, high school students and recent graduates.

He points to the 2003 Youth Risk Survey, which found that 49 percent
of high schoolers have used marijuana and 17 percent have used hard
drugs. Both numbers  are up from the 2002 survey. The 2004 survey is
due out within the next few  weeks.

Jill Carroll, a parent member of the high school site council who has
a son on the soccer team, said she thinks it's a good idea to do a
study of drug use at the high school. But she is not ready to support
drug testing. Like Valaskatgis, she is concerned about how testing
would be administered and how  the results would be used.

"I would be very concerned about who would be doing the testing and
who would have access to the information," she said. "Every parent
wants to do everything  they can from keeping their children from
using drugs, but I don't think a kid  who tries pot once on the
weekend should be thrown off the team and have their  lives ruined."

Carroll said she would worry that any information about a failed drug
test would hurt a student's chances of getting into college or even
end up in the newspaper. School Committee members Kerry Fitzgerald,
Shaun Toohey and Robert Gilman said they intend to support Wood's
proposal to form a task force of teachers, parents, students, School
Committee members and law enforcement officials to study drug use at
the high school. But they said they aren't ready to endorse drug testing.

Toohey said he would have to be convinced parents want their children
tested for drugs before supporting such a policy.

Wood will make his presentation at tonight's meeting, which begins at
7 at City Hall.
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