Pubdate: Wed, 17 Jul 2013
Source: Times Daily (Florence, AL)
Copyright: 2013 Times Daily
Author: Lisa Singleton-Rickman


Lauderdale County schools spent nearly $13,000 last year in student 
drug testing.

It's an expense that's worth the money, officials say. Still, it hits 
the pocketbook hard, especially when the state doesn't provide any 
funding for the testing.

While school administrators across the state agree that student drug 
testing is beneficial, it is cost prohibitive for many school districts.

Most Shoals area school districts perform random drug tests. It's an 
expense some school officials say simply isn't optional.

"A high priority for us is for students to be drug free, and we 
believe that random testing is key," Florence schools Superintendent 
Janet Womack said. "We do random testing for all extracurricular activities."

The Florence school district tests students in grades seven through 
12. Other districts follow comparable policies, but in the case of 
Florence, the largest city district in the Shoals, the drug-testing 
policy states they test as funds are available.

"It's terribly expensive," Womack said. "If it wasn't, we'd probably 
do even more. But we're watchful all the time for trends in drugs. It 
seems the drug of choice comes in waves in schools. Right now, it's 
prescription pills. It's what's going on in communities, and it comes 
right into the schools."

According to the school system's policy, if a student tests positive, 
he or she may be required to undergo further tests. The student will 
not be allowed to continue participating in extracurricular 
activities or drive onto or park on school property until there is a 
negative test result. The school board also may take further 
disciplinary action in accordance with its student discipline policy.

Some school districts only drug test certain segments of the student 
body. Lauderdale County schools perform random drug tests for sports, 
testing students in the spring and fall. The cost is $62 per test 
and, like most systems that conduct drug tests, a urinalysis is 
performed by an off-site laboratory company.

"It's expensive, and we'd love to have a less costly, but highly 
effective test," said John Mansell, director of the Lauderdale County 
schools' drug-free program. "A few years ago, I looked into 
mouth-swab tests, but it didn't work out. We'd love to be able to cut 
the costs, but you have to have effectiveness in these tests."

Mansell said his school district had two students test positive for 
drugs last year and one student the previous year.

"We have very few positives on these tests, but the students that do 
test positive need help," he said. "At the least, a positive drug 
test means suspension from the sport for a while, but ultimately we 
try to get the kids on a better track."

Lauderdale tests 210 students per year.

The number and types of drugs screened are determined by the school 
district, according to Laboratory Corp. of America officials.

In some school systems, like Sheffield, the expenditure on drug 
testing isn't as great. The district spends about $2,400 per year, 
and sometimes receives grants to help curb the cost.

Sheffield officials say it's rare they get a positive result on a 
student drug test. The school district contracts with a company that 
randomly selects the students to test, thus taking the appearance of 
impropriety out of the process.

It's been an ongoing debate for years on whether or not schools 
should drug test and how to do it. Most drug tests range from $60-$95 
and can include a hair follicle test or urinalysis.

Shoals area schools use urine samples.

The Colbert County school system has been among those debating the 
pros and cons of drug testing. The district doesn't do student drug 
testing, but officials say if there was state funding for such 
testing, the district would do it.

"I think it's very beneficial, but for us, it's strictly a financial 
decision," Colbert Schools Assistant Superintendent Jeff Cornelius 
said. "It's another local expense for us, and we just can't do it, 
but we're open to discussing it. I would be in favor of testing 
randomly across the whole student population."

Florence High School head football coach Jamey DuBose has seen the 
issue from both sides, having been a part of the Prattville school 
district that didn't drug test students and now Florence that does.

"In Prattville, we didn't drug test because of finances," he said. 
"It's just a fact that in Alabama, not every school system can afford 
to do it. Do I think it's a good idea? Absolutely. I think every 
system would love to be able to do it. As a coach, I certainly want 
to know what's going into these students' bodies." DuBose said the 
concern isn't just about the illegal drugs and steroids, but 
supplements as well.

"Some of these supplements will dehydrate their bodies and that sets 
them up for big problems," DuBose said. "We don't want anything 
detrimental to happen to a student. We educate our coaches to watch 
the kids. If something is amiss, we talk to that kid."

The district's policy also allows for officials to conduct a drug 
screening if there's reasonable suspicion that a student has been 
using a drug in violation of the policy.

"The main thing is to get that student help in the event a drug test 
is positive," he said.

Companies across the country are now offering drug test kits that can 
be purchased through retail sale at considerably lower prices, 
ranging from $20.

Local officials are skeptical of such tests, saying they question the 
accuracy of the results.
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