Pubdate: Sun, 15 Feb 2009
Source: Times Daily (Florence, AL)
Copyright: 2009 Times Daily
Author: Tom Smith, Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)
Bookmark: (Students - United States)


FRANKLIN COUNTY - Results from the 2007 Alabama Pride Survey indicate
a growing problem with substance abuse among students in Franklin
County schools.

The Alabama Pride Survey is done statewide every spring, asking
students about the prevalence of substance use, age of first use,
where and when students use and other questions about behavioral
patterns. Luanne Vickery, the system's intervention counselor, said
the 2007 statistics for Franklin County revealed an alarming fact that
the use of alcohol and drugs is increasing.

"The 2007 statistics showed that 41.7 percent of all 12th-grade
students are using alcohol and 20.8 percent are smoking marijuana,"
Vickery said.

Cynthia Forsythe, the Franklin County Safe and Drug Free School
coordinator, said the 2006 survey indicated that 34.3 percent of
Franklin County 12th-graders used alcohol and 11.6 percent used marijuana.

"That shows how the problem has grown in one year," Forsythe

She said recently released 2008 statistics showed that 47.7 percent of
12th-graders said they use alcohol frequently and 14.2 percent use
marijuana, which was a slight decrease from 2007.

Vickery said another alarming aspect of the report was that in 2007,
sixth-graders showed that the first use of alcohol and marijuana was
at age 10.

"These statistics showed that young people are continuing to
experiment with alcohol and drugs and are doing it at a younger age,"
Vickery said.

After discussing the issue with Superintendent Gary Williams and the
school board, the decision was made to pursue random drug testing.
Vickery said the system was approved for a $600,000 grant through the
Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools to implement a three-year drug
testing program.

Within the next two weeks, random drug testing will begin for all
students involved in extracurriculars.

School officials said the extracurricular activities go beyond
athletics and band to include scholars bowl teams, math teams, clubs
such as Future Business Leaders of America, Vocational Industrial
Clubs of America and Heath Occupation Students of America. Also,
parents have the opportunity to place their child, even if they are
not in an extracurricular activity, into the testing pool.

"This is something the board feels very strongly about," Williams
said. "We're not out to catch anyone doing something wrong. This is
all about prevention, trying to keep students from taking the wrong
direction and trying to keep them focused on school and not on
something less productive."

Williams said of the school system's 3,230 students, he expects 1,200
to 1,500 to be in the testing pool.

Gloria Butts has three sons who will be in the testing pool because of
their extracurricular activities.

"I'm sure there will be those who feel this could be a personal
privacy thing, but we don't have a problem with it," Butts said. "I
know there is a problem (with drugs and alcohol) because it's so
widely available. It's really alarming that we have to do this, but
hopefully it will help some students make the right choices for their

Vickery said at the outset of the program, every student within the
pool will be tested.

"After that, every month while school is in session, there will be
random testing," she said. "I'd say probably 20 to 25 students each
month will be tested. And just because a student is tested one month
doesn't mean they will not possibly be tested again. They go right
back in the pool, and they could be selected again."

Williams said the school board has contracted with Employee Drug
Program Management Co., of Birmingham, to conduct the testing.

The school board also has adopted a drug testing policy and penalties
for anyone testing positive. Vickery said there will be no academic
suspension, but positive testing means an automatic 30-day suspension
from activities, as well as counseling. "They must pass a drug test
before they are reinstated to participate in that activity," she said.

She said there are stiffer penalties in the policy for students who
repeatedly test positive. Penalties reach up to a year of suspension
from the activity.

Vickery said students who test positive will not be reported to law

"This is not about getting anyone in trouble," she stressed. "This is
about prevention." She said if drugs or alcohol are found on an
individual, it will be reported to law enforcement, but a positive
test will only be reported to the student and his or her parents or
guardians. "The test results will be discussed at length," she said.

"We hope we never have anyone test positive. We hope this testing is a
deterrent to students who are using alcohol or drugs or to those who
think they might want to experiment with them," Williams said.

Forsythe sees the drug testing as something positive for the school
system and the students.

"This is something that our board and faculty feel very strongly
about," she said. "It's a problem that is not going to go away. The
drug testing program is a proactive approach.

"First and foremost, this is for the students," she said. "We're
trying to stop something before it becomes an addiction. We're just
worried about the health, well-being and future of our students."

Williams said he wishes there was enough money to do testing on every
student in the system.

"But this is a start, and if (testing can) turn a few away (from drugs
and alcohol), I think we've done a good job," he said.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin