Pubdate: Thu, 17 Jan 2008
Source: Huntsville Times (AL)
Copyright: 2008 The Huntsville Times
Author: Wendy Reeves


Overwhelmingly Positive Response To E-mailed Details

MADISON - Superintendent Dr. Dee Fowler hopes the "tempest in a
teapot" over a proposed random drug testing policy will calm down, now
that the specifics of the proposal have been released.

The policy, which has stirred controversy in Madison since it was
first introduced in November, will impact middle and high school
students who participate in extracurricular activities or who drive to

Fowler sent a letter to parents Wednesday explaining the policy, and
they responded almost immediately.

Fowler got about 50 responses in less than two hours after he sent a
message to parents through the school system's voluntary e-mail list

"So far, I'd say 99.8 percent of the responses have been in support of
the policy," said Fowler while sitting in front of his computer
Wednesday afternoon.

He continued opening the e-mails while a reporter was present, sharing
a few of the comments that were written to him. Within the first hour
and a half, Fowler got one response from a parent who is against the
drug testing policy.

Overall, the comments ranged from "wholehearted support" to the one
quickly responding non-supporter who told Fowler, "My child will never
be tested."

One parent asked if teachers and staff would be tested.

"It's something we're looking into," he said.

Several parents said they think all students should be tested, not
just the students who play sports or drive to school.

Fowler said the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the entire student
body cannot legally be subjected to random drug testing. However, he
said students who choose to participate in extracurricular activities
that distinguish them from the larger population may be legally tested.

Fowler said the system will apply for a federal grant to cover the
cost of the testing, which will be $14 per student.

The school board will review the policy during a work session Feb. 7
at 4:30 p.m. A board meeting will follow the work session.

Here are highlights of the proposed policy:

The test will be a saliva test randomly given to middle and high
school students who participate in extracurricular activities and/or
who drive to school.

Students who have a positive drug test will not be reported to any law
enforcement agency and they will not be suspended or expelled from
school because of the drug test. Parents or guardians will be notified.

A student with a positive drug test or who refuses to take a test will
be suspended from driving or participating in extracurricular
activities for two weeks.

The suspension from extracurricular activities and parking increases
to 12 weeks for two positive drug screens or refusals, one calendar
year for three and the remainder of their time in the system for four.

"Truly, we are trying to help create a safer environment for our
students," Fowler said. "We know that about 5 percent of our students
have the potential to test positive, based on the national average."

He said studies such as the 2005 Effectiveness of Random Student
Drug-Testing Programs show that student drug use decreases upon
implementation of a comprehensive non-punitive drug testing program.

In his e-mail to parents, Fowler said there are several school
districts which have implemented drug testing for many years.

Locally, he said, Limestone County has mandatory drug testing for all
athletes. Huntsville High has a voluntary drug testing program for its
football and baseball teams.

Mountain Brook, Vestavia Hills, Hoover and Auburn also have drug
testing programs; the one in Auburn is voluntary, he said.

Also in his e-mail, Fowler provided a link to the most recent Pride
Survey, a federally mandated official measurement of adolescent drug
use in America. It shows 12.3 percent of Madison city students who
participate in school activities said they use illicit drugs a lot.

Another 12.4 percent said they use drugs often, and 31 percent said
they never use drugs, the survey said.

The most recent Pride Survey results for Vestavia Hills, a district
similar to Madison, shows that 8.5 percent of students who participate
in school activities use drugs a lot. There were 12.3 percent who said
they used drugs often.

And 40 percent of Vestavia students who participate in school
activities said they never use drugs.

Fowler said the Vestavia school administrators said they believe the
drug testing policy has resulted in fewer students using drugs.

"For those who are adamantly opposed to this policy, I'm sorry,"
Fowler said. "I'm not trying to run over their rights, but I don't
have the luxury to be able to look at each individual child, but 8,000
all at once, and I'm recommending what I believe is best for the
entire student population."
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