Pubdate: Sun, 09 Aug 2015
Source: Albuquerque Journal (NM)
Copyright: 2015 Albuquerque Journal
Author: James Yodice
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)
Bookmark: (Students - United States)


School Districts Take Pre-Emptive Strikes in an Attempt to Steer 
Students From Drugs and Alcohol

The misconception is easy to have, and often it leads to the wrong 
conclusion: Only teenagers in big cities can lay their hands on drugs.

"You can get drugs anywhere," said Billy Burns, the athletic director 
at Logan High, a school in a remote area of eastern New Mexico with 
about 85 students in grades 8-12. "If you believe the hearsay, a 
small town is just like a big town. We have the same problems."

And so Logan randomly drug tests its school's athletes, even though 
it has been 11 years since it has had a positive test on the first 
try, Burns said.

At the other end of the spectrum, Rio Rancho Public Schools last 
month became the largest New Mexico school system, to date, to decide 
it is worth the trouble - and the cost - to dangle this deterrent 
before their teenagers.

Starting with 2015-16, athletes at Class 6A Rio Rancho and Cleveland, 
two of the five largest high schools in New Mexico, will be randomly 
selected for drug tests. RRPS is spending $25,000 this year out of 
its athletic budget to do it.

It is doing so in large part because its coaches, across the board, 
pushed for testing to be added. This, after a school year (2014-15) 
of more substance-related suspensions than ever before, according to 
its district athletic director.

RRPS will be sending its samples to a firm in Kansas City, Mo., which 
lists the NFL, NBA, the NCAA and Major League Baseball among its clients.

Some schools stay closer to home to test. Artesia sends its samples 
down the road to Artesia Drug and Alcohol Screening.

Some districts are testing only athletes. Some test all involved in 
extracurricular activities. Private Catholic schools St. Pius and St. 
Michael's subject all students to testing.

Testing methods, from Logan to Ruidoso, from Artesia to St. 
Michael's, from St. Pius to Hobbs, each have a fingerprint separate 
from the rest. Some use urine tests; Clovis painstakingly plugs up 
the faucets in the bathroom with tape to make sure athletes cannot 
mix in water to dilute their samples.

Some schools test with a swab on the inside of a student's cheek. 
Others use Breathalyzers or hair samples.

Some test for basic street drugs. Others have expanded to synthetic 
drugs, performance enhancers and painkillers.

As the Journal examined some of the districts and individual schools 
that conduct drug tests, here's what is notable:

The state's larger school systems in terms of the number of schools 
- -most notably, Albuquerque Public Schools - haven't committed to the 
idea that drug testing is the way to go.

For those that have, there is a uniformity of idealism, if not an 
actual assembly line, in terms of policy.

That is, adults and students alike believe the testing - and 
concurrent punishments for testing positive - is an effective 
deterrent. However, "it's not a bulletproof cureall," Rio Rancho 
district athletic director Bruce Carver cautions. "We're not saying it is."

Ruidoso, for one, knows all too well.

Two years ago, Warriors AD/head football coach Kief Johnson said, the 
school temporarily suspended its random drug-testing program, and 
word apparently spread rapidly through the student body.

The district, however, never said the policy had changed, Johnson 
said. In January of that school year, with officials getting wind of 
rampant partying, they quietly resumed testing, catching students off guard.

"Our first test," he said, "we had 30 percent test positive. It was bad."

It was a pool of 20 students, and six tested positive.

"We knew then," Johnson said, "that we needed to bring it back."

Rio Rancho

Rio Rancho will use a swab test for its athletes. Ostensibly, it is a 
Q-Tip pressed on the inside of the cheek for a few minutes.

"It's less invasive," said Carver, who also helped get Hobbs' program 
started when he was AD there. "Plus there's no chance for somebody 
coming in and swapping urine."

The trade-off is that the swab test is somewhat more expensive. 
Carver said it would cost the district about $46 per test.

Carver declined to reveal how many athletes would be tested, nor 
would he say how frequently the district would be pulling athletes 
out of class to test.

"We want it to be a deterrent," he said. "Some kids, they'll see a 
number and think they can beat the odds."

Swab tests can detect alcohol, as well, Carver added.

Rio Rancho decided to incur extra costs to send its samples to Drug 
Free Sport, as noted above, in Kansas City, because "this is what 
they do. ... They have the experience in doing this kind of drug testing."

Rio Rancho will supply a roster of all its sports teams at both 
schools to Drug Free Sport, even those not currently in season, and 
the company will come back with a list of athletes to be tested. A 
group of three people will fly in from Kansas City during testing 
dates, Carver said.

When coaches at both Cleveland and Rio Rancho participated in a 
recent district-sponsored survey, asking whether they desired a 
drug-testing policy, there was not a single "no" vote among them, and 
nearly everyone voted.

"The only problem I have with it," Cleveland girls soccer coach Greg 
Rusk said, "is I think all extracurricular activities should be under 
this umbrella."

And that may come soon enough, perhaps as early as 2016-17. For now, 
it's only the athletes.

A first positive tests sends the athlete away from the team for 20 
consecutive activity days. The second violation is 45 days. If 
there's a third positive, it is career-ending at RRPS.

Athletes can be tested outside their season, which is a fairly 
standard clause at most schools. A football player could be tested in 
the spring; a baseball player in the fall. Some athletes may be 
tested multiple times, some may never get tested.

Rio Rancho football coach David Howes said the safety and health of 
their athletes was the priority.

"I've got two kids coming up through the system who are athletes, and 
I'm for it as a parent, also," he said. "It's a deterrent to keep 
these kids away from any drugs."

In Rio Rancho, as with every district, consent forms must be signed 
before any school can test. Depending on the school, there are 
penalties - some severe - for students or athletes who refuse to 
consent to being tested.

Students are chosen randomly by a computer, based on their ID 
numbers, which is how students are chosen at almost every school.

St. Pius

The Sartans' program is believed to the longest-running in New Mexico 
- - started in 1994 with boys and girls soccer, expanded in 1996 to all 
athletics and to the entire student body in the early 2000s -and it's 
also possibly the most interesting of the lot.

St. Pius, for example, tests three to five students on a weekly 
basis, as opposed to the monthly tests with more students that are 
the norm elsewhere. The odds of an athlete being tested increase when 
in season: their student ID numbers are entered twice during their 
sport season, and only once when that sport concludes.

St. Pius' test runs the gamut, athletic director Jim Cook said. Not 
only does the school test for the big five - marijuana, cocaine, 
barbiturates, opiates and methamphetamine - but it also examines for 
steroids and synthetic, performance-enhancing drugs such as HGH 
(human growth hormone).

"We are not going after kids," Cook said. "We just don't want them to 
become addicted to this stuff. If you find it early, you are able to 
help these kids."

While many schools have a firm "missed-games" standard for a student 
who tests positive, St. Pius prefers to take each case individually 
and evaluate before meting out punishment, said Cook.

But, he added, usually an athlete can expect a suspension of 45-60 
days, which means most, if not all, of a sports season.

"(Our policy) has changed a lot of kids for the better," Cook said.

St. Michael's

This will be the fourth school year that the Santa Fe school has been 
testing. St. Michael's is the only known school in the state that 
tests hair follicles, rather than the cheek swab or the urine sample.

About 10 students are tested on a random basis, Assistant Principal 
and boys basketball coach Ron Geyer said. A snippet of hair is 
obtained and sent to a California lab for processing.

"The hair test is very reliable," Geyer said.

If a student tests positive, they have 100 days to reform. Then they 
are tested again.

"If there is not improvement," Geyer said, "then they are asked to 
leave school (permanently). But in the years we've had it, to my 
knowledge, nobody has been asked to leave."

Geyer said he was unsure of the cost of a test or the list of the 
drugs being tested for.

St. Mike's can also test a student if there is suspicion that he or 
she is under the influence of a substance or alcohol, another policy 
that is found most everywhere.


Clovis' program, which originated in 2001, is like Rio Rancho's: 
Testing is restricted to athletes.

"We wanted to give them a valid reason to resist peer pressure," 
Clovis AD Dale Fullerton said.

The program appears to have successfully addressed the issue in a 
pre-emptive way. Fullerton said only half a dozen athletes or so 
tested positive last school year, and only two the year before that.

In all his years at Clovis, Fullerton said, he knew of only one 
athlete who had tested positive more than once.

Generally, he said, Clovis will drug test the same percentage of 
athletes in each sport. For instance, if 15 percent of football 
players are tested in a given month, then 15 percent of soccer 
players, volleyball players and crosscountry runners also will get tested.

Clovis contracts with a firm in Lubbock, Texas, to create the random 
list of athletes to be tested, and also to monitor and conduct the test.

An individual test costs $35, Fullerton said, adding that Clovis 
spent roughly $7,300 from its athletic budget during the 2014-15 
school year to administer the tests.

"It's not comfortable," Fullerton said, "but we figured out a way to do it."

Athletes can appeal a failed test within five days. That window is 
similar at a majority of the schools the Journal looked at for this story.

"It's really tapered down over the last few years," Fullerton said, 
referring to the number of athletes who might be tangled up with 
drugs. "I'm smart enough to know that this will not stop every one of 
them from doing it, but hopefully, it'll give them a way ... to look 
at the consequences."

The first violation of the program results in an athlete getting 
suspended for 20 percent of their season. Individual coaches may 
extend the punishment if they so choose, Fullerton said.

When that athlete returns, he or she is subjected to multiple random 
tests over a short period of time.

A second violation results in a 365-day suspension from athletics.


Hobbs' program started in large part because of increased "referrals" 
through the Hobbs Police Department, among other entities.

District AD Greg Haston said the district forks out just under 
$10,000 per year to test, which is done eight times per school year. 
The money comes from the athletic budget, he said, although all 
students in extracurricular activities fall under the drugtesting blanket.

Hobbs tests for things such as amphetamines, meth, opiates, cocaine, 
PCP and THC. The policy was written to help students protect 
themselves and to protect other students from them.

"It has become clear to me that participation steers kids away from 
drugs when the vast majority of kids we have had come back as 
positive over the years have chosen to no longer participate," Haston said.

Hobbs also uses the swab test.

The penalty system at Hobbs is similar to that in Clovis. A first 
violation means a minimum 20 percent loss of games for that season. 
Moreover, that student must participate in a mandatory drug and 
alcohol program, or drug/alcohol counseling, at the student's expense 
- - and will be subject to extra drug testing after being reinstated.


Carlsbad's test is one of the most wide-ranging, as it tests for many 
of the items already mentioned at other schools, plus Spice (a common 
name for synthetic marijuana) and steroids.

"Anything you can think of," athletic director James Johns said.

Carlsbad uses a company in Artesia to perform the tests.

The tier of penalties has four levels, as opposed to three most 
everywhere else.

A first positive test sends an athlete away for 20 percent of their 
season - but that goes up to 30 percent if they refuse to go through 
an in-house counseling program. A second positive test is a 30-day 
suspension, followed by a calendar year and then an athlete's entire career.

"If your kid really wants to make a change, we have some 
interventions here that can happen," Johns said. "We don't just bury you."

There are, he said, social ramifications behind Carlsbad's 
initiatives. If athletes have a bad sample outside of their regular 
sports season, they must perform 24 hours on a work detail program, 
split up into four six-hour sessions. And they also must complete the 
in-house counseling program. But they won't miss any games when it's 
time for their sport to begin.


Artesia has been testing since the late 1990s. The school tests 
extracurricular participants at both the high school and junior high, 
30 a month, athletic director Cooper Henderson said.

Artesia recently changed from a urine test to the swab. It is an 
11-panel test, Henderson said, that covers most of the drugs already 
mentioned, plus Ecstasy, Oxycodone and Spice.

The district can also test for alcohol if a student is suspected of 
being under the influence.

Henderson said the swab test is more efficient than the urine test, 
and much harder to beat.

A first offense results in a 60-day suspension, although an athlete 
can get that reduced to 45 days through counseling.

A second strike is one calendar year; a third and that athlete can't 
compete in athletics again.

"It's a pretty sound system," Henderson said. "Most of the time, with 
the drug tests in particular, you find that the parent was realizing 
there was some kind of problem and almost was kind of relieved that 
we got it out in the open. From that end, it's been pretty good, and 
I've seen kids turn themselves around."

The cost to the operational budget is $55 per test, assistant 
Superintendent Thad Phipps said. The district spent nearly $15,000 
during the 2014-15 school year on testing.


Clovis based much of its criteria on Portales', so the two are quite alike.

Deviations between the two include Portales testing all students in 
extracurricular activities. About 45 to 55 students are tested a 
month, AD Mark Gallegos estimated.

Like Clovis, Portales uses Lubbock Diagnostics to do the testing and 
analyze the results. That company also is responsible for generating 
the random list of students to be tested.

Portales uses a urine sample as its method, which, Gallegos said, is 
the most cost-effective way to monitor for drugs.

Another wrinkle that is unique to Portales is that the school also 
asks for a "K2" test, which tests for synthetic drugs like Spice, 
Gallegos said.

"It's relatively new," he said. From the pool of students who are 
tested each month, the "K2" test is applied to about only 10 percent 
of the samples.

With the random nature of the testing, Gallegos said, he alone knows 
the date ahead of time.

The cost of an individual test is $25 to $30, and the approximately 
$5,000 to $7,000 per year comes from the school's operational budget.

Portales employs a Breathalyzer before prom and graduation, but only 
for those two events.


Ruidoso budgets $10,000 a year as it tests for all the major drugs, 
plus Spice - which costs a little extra. But Johnson said it is worth 
the money given the side effects that are considered far more acute 
than regular marijuana.

Like Artesia, Ruidoso employs a hometown firm to conduct drug tests.

Athletes will lose 30 percent of their season for a first violation, 
and 50 percent for a second violation, which would probably spill 
over into their next sport or into the next school year. Soon Ruidoso 
may expand its testing from grades 9-12 to include grades 7-8, too.


Since 2004, Tucumcari has been drug testing, AD Wayne Ferguson said. 
Any student in an extracurricular activity can be tested, and the 
school tests at least once every 45 days during the school year.

It is a random selection of 10 percent of that list of students 
(90-100 is the estimation) in athletics or activities.

The testing is done by school officials, and samples are shipped to a 
Santa Febased company for evaluation. To prevent tampering, a colored 
dye is added to the toilet water in the stall before a urine test, to 
prevent students from trying to manipulate their sample.

Any student who tampers with the test will have it immediately 
declared positive.

He said the school incurs no expense to test students; it is 
absorbed, he added, through various community outlets. The only 
exception to that is if a test comes back positive, he said.

Athletes who test positive must sit out 20 school days on a first 
positive test, and after their suspension from their team ends, they 
will be tested "every time there is a random selection," Ferguson said.

The second positive tests results in a 40-day suspension, and 
Tucumcari offers counseling to students during their time away.

"Before we had this program," Ferguson said, "we were kicking 
multiple kids off the teams for years."


Not only has it been over a decade since Logan registered a positive 
test on the first try, but the school never has had an athlete test 
positive for drugs two times in a row.

Logan - about 25 miles northeast of Tucumcari - tests 
extracurricular-activity students, which includes sports.

Burns did not know what substances are tested for, deferring to the 
California company that processes the tests. Nor could he say how 
much an individual test costs.

About 10 kids a month - 10 percent of the students in extracurricular 
activities - are tested, Burns said.

The first-offense penalty is 10 calendar days, the second is 90 days. 
If there is a third strike, they are forbidden from playing a sport 
for the duration of their prep career.

Students have five days to appeal a positive test, which is handled 
internally by the school nurse at Logan before the school ships them 
to California, said Burns.

Funding comes from the school's operational budget, Burns said.


Loving's program is 7 years old. It has been at least two years since 
the last positive test, AD Doug Santo said.

"We feel it's important to keep our kids on the straight and narrow," he said.

Loving tests only athletes - and less frequently than other schools 
surveyed. The school tests once per season, or three times per school 
year. It is a urine test.

The district spends about $1,500 per school year to administer the 
tests, Santo said.

The first positive test results in a 45-day suspension; a second, and 
that athlete is done with sports for the entire school year.

"When they start to weigh the consequences, and what might happen, I 
think you get more and more kids saying no," Santo said.
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