Pubdate: Sun, 22 Aug 2010
Source: Albany Democrat-Herald (OR)
Copyright: 2010 Lee Enterprises
Author: Jennifer Moody, Albany Democrat-Herald


SCIO - Justin Guest is fine with being in a pool for random drug tests this 
fall at Scio High School. The way he sees it, tests will prove the Logger 
football team doesn't do drugs.

But it irks the 17-year-old linebacker that the pool will include only 
students who participate in sports or physical extracurricular activities, 
such as forestry competitions.

"I think they should have to test everyone," said Guest, a senior. "I just 
kind of think it's unfair, almost like we're getting punished."

The Scio School Board unanimously signed off on the mandatory drug-testing 
policy in July after several months of research, discussion and tinkering. 
It takes effect in September and will be evaluated at the end of the school 

Scio will be the only mid-valley public school district with such a policy 
currently in force. In 2008, a study by the Student Drug Testing Coalition, 
part of the nonprofit Drug-Free Projects Coalition, Inc., estimated some 
16.5 percent of school districts nationally enforced random drug testing, 
with a growth rate of about 1 percent per year.

Superintendent Gary Tempel said he got the idea in part from Western 
Mennonite School in Salem, also a member of the Tri-River Conference, which 
has been testing student athletes for a year. Scio also participated in a 
two-year drug-testing study about 10 years ago sponsored by Oregon Health & 
Science University through the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Evidence from that study, called SATURN, indicated drug testing has no 
effect on student drug use. But Tempel said he's talked with schools that 
do think testing makes a difference - and it's a chance he's willing to take.

"We don't look at this as a way to catch people," Tempel said. "This is an 
opportunity for our students to stand in the gap, to say this is not what 
they're about."

"This is a tool for them to use, for them to be able to say no."

Random testing

As written, Scio's policy will apply to students "in all grade levels where 
substance abuse is perceived to be a problem."

In practical terms, Tempel said, that means grades 7 through 12.

"We know kids are starting to use drugs and alcohol as soon as fifth 
grade," he said. "If we find out that there's an overwhelming problem in 
fifth grade, we could start testing there."

Students will not be allowed to sign up for sports or physically-active 
clubs or electives - including driver's education - unless they agree to be 
in the drug-testing pool.

A chess club, for instance, which Scio doesn't have, wouldn't be on the 
list. "It's competitive but it's not hazardous," Tempel said.

Tempel said he anticipates having about 150 students in the pool and doing 
about 300 tests per year. But testing will be random, so some students may 
be selected multiple times while others never are.

Bio-Med of Salem will do the screening, at a cost of about $30 per test, 
Tempel said. The money will come from the district's general fund.

Scio is facing a $540,000 deficit for the coming year, not counting any 
additional federal funds or any more state reductions. But the Scio School 
Board felt the drug test money would be well spent, Tempel said.

Former mayor Dean Ferguson, and a longtime district volunteer who has three 
grandchildren in Scio schools, doesn't agree. Sports and activities, he 
said, are what help keep kids from drugs in the first place.

"My biggest concern is we're scrutinizing the kids that need it least," he 
said. "We're in a budget crisis right now, and we're going to spend $10,000 
on drug testing in an area where there's no proven problem?"

Principal cites problem

But Scio High School does have a problem, said Principal Bryan Starr. 
Disciplinary referrals, combined with at-risk youth surveys, indicate more 
than 10 percent of the high school's 240 students experiment with drugs and 

With a population of just over 800 people and just a handful of hometown 
businesses, Scio has no teen night life to speak of. It isn't unusual for 
Starr to get calls on a Monday morning from people who heard this or that 
team spent the weekend partying.

"My hope is, with us going this direction, those kinds of rumors will be 
stopped," he said.

The question of testing the entire student body did come up, Starr said. 
But while the Supreme Court has upheld the question of being able to 
randomly test student athletes and activity participants - most notably for 
Oregon in the 1995 case "Vernonia School District v. Acton" - lower courts 
have thus far turned back attempts to test all students, citing a greater 
expectation of privacy for those not involved in sports or clubs.

Said Tempel: "We even looked at, could a parent put a child voluntarily in 
the pool? Can't do that."

'Drug testing

doesn't work'

Dr. Linn Goldberg of Oregon Health & Science University doesn't think it 
would matter even if they could. The Portland physician developed and 
administered the SATURN program in which Scio participated about a decade ago.

SATURN, which stood for Student Athlete Testing Using Random Notification, 
was meant to measure whether drug tests help prevent student drug use.

After two years, multiple surveys and regular tests of student athletes at 
11 Oregon high schools, Goldberg and his fellow researchers concluded they 
don't. A larger study funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 
released in 2003, came to similar conclusions.

Goldberg, a former doping control officer for the Olympics, ran SATURN the 
same way athletes are tested during the games.

Students were tested for marijuana, steroids, narcotics, amphetamine, 
alcohol - "You name it," Goldberg said. "And we checked at the levels for 
the lowest detectable levels. It was a very rigorous program."

The tested schools were paired with control schools that matched their 
demographics and took the same drug-use questionnaires. Differences were so 
small as to be statistically nonexistent.

"We found absolutely no difference at any time for any drug, individually 
or as a group," Goldberg said.

But SATURN researchers did find something that surprised them: Students at 
the schools with drug tests began showing higher risk factors for future 
drug use than their untested peers. They did not report as many negative 
beliefs about drug use, felt worse about themselves and their schools, and 
indicated they felt both their peers and their administrations were 
actually more tolerant of drug use - not less - than the control schools.

To Goldberg, that's evidence a testing program potentially could do more 
harm than good. He favors an OHSU school-based program called ATLAS - 
Athletes Training and Learning to Avoid Steroids - that relies on education 
and counseling, peer to peer, to teach students how to make healthy choices.

"Schools should do what they do best, and that's teach. Drug testing 
doesn't work," Goldberg said.

"I don't care about any of the testimonials. Testimonials are not worth 
anything. It's hard science and what the data is."

'95 lawsuit opened way

SATURN came about in direct response to the Vernonia v. Acton decision that 
opened the way for schools to use drug tests. Coincidentally, it was a 
former Scio superintendent, Ellis Mason, who began Vernonia's drug testing 

Vernonia School District in the late 1980s had seen a sharp increase in 
student drug use, disciplinary referrals and defiance. Various education 
and counseling programs had been tried, with little effect. According to 
case reports, school officials at the time felt that student athletes were 
leading the charge.

The testing program began in 1989 and remains a part of the district's 
official policies. The family of a seventh-grader, James Acton, filed suit 
in 1991 when they found he wouldn't be able to play football unless he 
signed the testing consent forms. In 1995, the 6-3 Supreme Court decision 
in Vernonia's favor paved the way for districts to test student athletes 

So far, neither Tempel nor Starr, nor Athletic Director Kyle Braa have 
heard any comments from Scio families opposed to the new policy.

"I think students are looking for ways to help their fellows; the community 
is looking for ways," Tempel said. "We have had no negative, 'Don't you 
dare do this, you're breaking my kid's rights.'"

Tori Graham, whose daughters will play volleyball for Scio High School this 
fall, said she has no problem having her children's names in the pool. She 
disagrees with Ferguson that Scio's athletes are at the bottom of the risk 

"You can't say, just because they're out here, they're not doing it," she 
said, nodding at the gym floor, where volleyball camp was in full swing.

Graham supports the district's penalty plan, which calls for a two-week 
suspension from the team or club for a first positive result. "I think they 
need to follow through with it," she said.

But Joey Ferguson, Dean Ferguson's daughter, said she's not sure taking a 
first-time offender away from the rigors of athletics is the best answer.

"I would really like the first step to be working with the family. Maybe 
the parents don't even know," she said. "Before anything else happens, give 
the parents a chance to take care of their kids and give them the help they 
need. If that doesn't work, then continue with the consequences."

Joey also thinks the policy should apply to everyone, including district staff.

"Why not? I think it would be a great example for our kids," she said. 
"Good enough for you, good enough for us."

Tempel said Scio's new hires will be subject to drug testing this fall, as 
will anyone who drives a district vehicle. He said he's also willing to be 
tested himself: "Anytime, anywhere."

Tempel's daughter Abby, 16, will be in the testing pool with the rest of 
the volleyball team and said she's looking forward to being selected.

It isn't fair, she said, for athletes who work hard to take care of 
themselves and the team to share playing time with people who don't do the 

Some Scio students do experiment, she added. "They just do it because they 
know they won't get in trouble."

That, in the end, is the key, Tempel said. He believes SATURN didn't work 
because it carried no immediate consequences for a positive test other than 
counseling. An automatic two-week suspension, he said, makes students take 

"We also had information from staff that had conversations with students 
who confided in them about having changed their behavior already," Tempel 
said. "With all that information, the board was resolved to continue with 
the process."

"You have to remember, we are a small community," he added. "These are our 
children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews and their friends. We have been 
with them every day throughout their childhood, watched and helped all of 
them grow. We want each one of them to succeed, we are trying to give them 
more tools to use in order to be the successes that we know they can be."

"If there is a chance, even if it is a small one, we have to try."
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MAP posted-by: Jo-D