Pubdate: Sun, 15 Jul 2007
Source: Citizens' Voice, The (Wilkes-Barre, PA)
Copyright: 2007 The Citizens' Voice
Author: Mike Garvey
Bookmark: (Drug Test)
Bookmark: (Youth)


Chris Perry sounded almost menacing when he spoke about what will 
happen in September, when Hazleton Area High School will implement 
its new drug-testing policy, approved at the school board's June 
meeting. Any student in any extracurricular activity, from football 
to band, could get selected for a random test.

It will be immediate, it will test for a wide range of substances, it 
will be the hard truth about what may be going on under the skin of 
Hazleton's students.

"When the first ones come out, then they're going to see," Perry, the 
school's athletic director, said. "We'll really find out when we put 
it into effect."

Not that Perry wants to make an example of anyone. But, in an era 
when pressure continues to build on students' athletic and academic 
success, three state athletic associations have a drug-testing 
policy, and only two other schools in District 2 have one, something 
had to be done.

Mostly, the new policy will replace the vague threat Hazleton used to 
have, in which if a coach suspected a player of drug use, the school 
reserved the right to test the player.

"Of course, what happened was that nobody ever came forward," Perry 
said. "We had a policy, but it really didn't have any bite in it."

Starting in September, Hazleton will take a more proactive approach 
by screening for basic drugs plus steroids, once per season. It 
outsourced the testing and selection of students to Geisinger Health 
System, which will provide a random list to the school. Those 
selected will have to provide a urine sample.

If that returns a positive test, a second test is conducted and, 
should that also return positive, Perry said the student will be 
suspended from activity until he or she completes a state-certified 
program, but "there's always a way, a means to come back." At which 
point the student is effectively put on probation.

If any students don't want to be subjected to a potential test, and 
sign the consent form that goes with the policy, then they can't participate.

"If we can save one kid, we're doing our job," Perry said. 
"Personally, I think there's nothing wrong with it. Why should there 
be, when you really think about it?"

Then why have just two schools adopted some version of the policy?

The legality of such a policy, a community's sensitivity toward it, 
and testing costs have surfaced as three major roadblocks to drug 
testing. The Dallas School District found that out first-hand when it 
introduced its policy in 1997.

Dallas had a concern about student drug usage and passed policies to 
test athletes and allow drug-sniffing dogs to smell out school 
lockers. It would randomly select 10 percent of in-season and two 
percent of out-of-season athletes for tests, in grades seven through 
12. The result of a positive test is the same as Hazleton's.

That caused a bit of a stir in the community, as a Dec. 28, 1997 
article in The Citizens' Voice detailed. The Concerned Parents of 
Student Athletes criticized the policy in a letter to the Dallas 
School Board, objected to testing athletes only, and recommended 
tests for the entire district -- students, teachers and administration.

But Gilbert Griffiths, the superintendent at the time, said the only 
students the school could test were the athletes, and it was well 
within its rights to do so. The district spent 18 months, many with 
the board's solicitor to get legal advice, developing the policy.

"It was like anything else, it was new and somewhat controversial," 
Griffiths said. "The board felt it was imperative they do something. 
It was a preventative measure."

In its 10 years of existence, Griffiths said Dallas' policy has 
gotten positive feedback. Current superintendent Frank Galicki said 
to the best of his knowledge, only one test ever came back positive 
- -- and did not test positive a second time.

"It was an excellent deterrent," Griffiths said.

It's a deterrent Dallas and Hazleton are willing to pay for. Tests 
can cost anywhere from $100 to $175, according to an Associated Press 
article. That cost has kept the PIAA, and many other states, from 
adopting some kind of state-wide testing program. Only Florida, New 
Jersey and Texas have them.

What of other school districts, then, that are free to adopt their 
own policy? Griffiths said Dallas' policy set the standard but it has 
taken 10 years for one other school in the conference to do that.

"We all discuss it," Frank Majikes, District 2 chairperson, said. "If 
I'm not mistaken, what always comes up is the legality of it. Do they 
drug test just athletes? Or do they drug test everybody?"

It essentially boils down to a Fourth Amendment issue and suspicion, 
in this case concerning a student's body. Can a school demand a urine 
sample without suspicion? The issue came up in 2003, concerning 
Delaware Valley's provision to drug test all students in 
extracurricular activities, as well as those applying for parking permits.

The parents of two students brought a lawsuit against the school. No 
decision on the case has been made.

Prior to these policies, coaches were relied on to police their own 
teams. They would select students for mandatory test whom they felt 
might be taking some form of steroids, due to rapid performance or 
strength gains. But because none of them ever did that, the random 
selection now does it for them.

Names of students, even those who might test positive, are never 
released. That's why Dallas track coach Matt Samuel fully supports 
his school's policy.

"It's an OK thing to me," Samuel said. "I'm all about the safety of 
our kids and the athletes that I coach are no different. Every school 
district should adopt it, actually."

Which is, in an odd way, the same thought Brad Fagula has on the 
topic. Fagula played football and basketball at Dallas and graduated 
this year. In 10th grade he randomly selected for a drug test in the 
middle of football season. He didn't know what he was being tested 
for, specifically, just that he had to take it.

Considering that no other school had their students do this, and not 
everyone on his own team was being tested, it's easy to see how he 
felt singled out.

"I was upset our school has drug testing as opposed to other 
schools," Fagula said. "I thought it should be some kind of 
regulation where all schools have them or no schools have them."

It seems -- at least at Dallas and Hazleton -- that in order to 
achieve drug-free athletics, a persistent, random, menacing threat 
for getting caught must be part of the equation. And this September, 
the students will find out that threat is real.

"They'll find out then," Perry said. "We're serious about it."
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