Pubdate: Thu, 10 Mar 2005
Source: Eagle-Tribune, The (MA)
Copyright: 2005 The Eagle-Tribune
Author: Shawn Regan
Bookmark: (Drug Test)
Bookmark: (Youth)

Task Force Not Sold On Drug Tests

Task force not sold on drug tests HAVERHILL -- The majority of members
of a task force studying ways to fight drug use at the high school
have yet to be sold on testing students, but the chairman of the group
believes some kind of drug testing will eventually be

Three of 12 members at the group's second meeting last night said they
are strongly opposed to any kind of testing and want the panel to
instead pursue only education and counseling programs to combat what
all the members agreed is a growing drug problem at the high school.

Eight members said they probably would support testing in only the
most extreme cases, such as if a student wanted to take a test to
prove he or she is not using drugs, but said they still are undecided.

They raised concerns over the legalities, costs and impacts that
testing would have on relationships between teachers and students; the
latter group has come out passionately opposed to the idea. Only
School Committee member and task force chairman Scott W. Wood Jr. is
strongly in favor of random or suspicion-based testing at this point
in the group's work.

"I'm not sure about the identity of this task force," said member
Geoff Grosky, a teacher at Hunking Middle School opposed to testing.
"Scott keeps pulling us back to testing, but he seems to be the only
one who wants it. I thought we were supposed to be trying to come up
with a way to deal with drug problems, with testing only one possible

Grosky was joined by high school senior Mikaela Firland and high
school constitutional law teacher Ron George in opposing testing of
any kind. Grosky and George said the district would be better served
by focusing its scarce resources on restoring drug education programs
at the middle grades.

Those programs have been almost entirely eliminated over the last
three years, they said. Only the School Committee, which formed the
task force, can approve drug testing. "I talked to a lot of parents
and students, and they all said drug testing will widen the gap of
mistrust between students and teachers," said Robert Eldridge, a
retired Haverhill police detective and a member of the task force.
"Even if we do it, I don't think parents will sign their kids up
anyway," said Eldridge, adding that he may still be open to some kind
of limited testing if it can be done in a way that allays all his
concerns. Drug testing supporters have said one way to prevent being
sued by a parent whose child suffered negative consequences after
failing a test is to test only students whose parents sign a waiver.

"There were a lot of valid questions that were raised tonight, which
is what I wanted," Wood said. "I think you're going to see people
change their minds back and forth on drug testing several times over
the next several months before we are done. At the last meeting
everyone was for testing.

We need to find answers to all our questions before we can make a
thoughtful decision.

I still believe we will approve testing if we can come with a good
program that addresses all the concerns."

Task force member Albert H. Whitaker Jr., a former 24-year School
Committee member and security chief at Whittier Regional Vocational
Technical High School, said the group should consider merely endorsing
the current DARE drug education program and recommending the hiring of
a "point-person" drug expert that every teacher in the district could
turn to when they suspect a student is using drugs.

The district's health director position was cut out of the budget two
years ago. Prior to the next meeting, several members, including Wood,
intend to visit Assabet Valley Vocational Technical High School in
Marlborough -- one of two schools in the state that test students
based on suspicion.

Wood also has invited an official from the drug testing laboratory
used by Assabet to attend a future meeting.

Wood proposed the task force because he believes drug use is on the
rise at Haverhill High, based on his own knowledge and the results of
a student survey. Also at last night's meeting were Robert Gulardo,
Mary Phennicie, Anne O'Donaghue, John Mangion, Steve Twombly and
School Committee member Shaun Toohey.
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