Chesterton Tribune

School board resumes random drug testing of CHS students

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Random drug testing will resume in the Duneland Schools.

The Duneland School Board on Monday unanimously accepted a recommendation from the Positive Life Program’s Advisory Committee to reinstate random drug testing at Chesterton High School next school year and then to expand the testing to Chesterton Middle School students in the 2009-10 school year.

All CHS students in extracurricular and co-curricular activities and those who drive to school will be subject to the random tests, with 10 students per month randomly selected. Extracurricular activities include athletics, while co-curricular activities are those in which students earn grades, such as band and speech and debate.

CHS used to have random drug testing in the 1999-00 school year, but that came to a halt with a court ruling that deemed the tests unconstitutional. Later, however, the U.S. Supreme Court found that schools have the right to randomly drug test students in “privileged” activities -- such as those in sports and those who drive. Duneland, however, opted to drug test based only on “reasonable suspicion,” which applies to any students suspected of being under the influence.

The reasonable suspicion program will continue, along with the random drug tests.

CHS Principal James Goetz said the school’s Positive Life Committee felt that the time was right to re-instate the random drug tests. He said to him, the overriding reason for the random testing is to give students a reason to reject peer pressure. “It gives the kids a reason to say no,” he said.

Speaking from the audience, William Barkow of Chesterton urged the board not to approve the random testing, saying that there is no statistical difference in drug usage among students at schools that randomly test and those that do not. The perception may exist that random testing is effective, he said, but no solid evidence exists to demonstrate that that’s true. On the flip side, Barkow said studies have shown that adult sponsored after-school activities are effective in keeping kids drug free.

Barkow also said the money that will be spent on the drug testing program could be put to better use elsewhere.

The drug tests will cost $35 per student and will be paid for through parking permit fees, Goetz said. Currently, CHS students pay $5 for a parking permit. He said many students drive to school without a permit, but that problem should be alleviated with the plans to assign parking numbers for students.

In response to Barkow’s comments about the financial impact of the tests, Duneland School Board President John Marshall said if school officials feel that the program can help just one student stay off of drugs, then it will be worth it.

Under Duneland’s current suspicion-based program, a drug test is ordered when there is a suspicion that a student is using drugs. The program applies to all students, even non-drivers and those not in extracurricular activities.

Duneland Director of Security and Safety Stephen Rohe said he has ordered about 40 to 50 tests this school year under the suspicion-based program.

The suspicion-based tests involve testing students’ saliva. Goetz said the saliva tests show if a student has used drugs very recently, while urine testing shows drug usage within the past few weeks. Duneland will continue the saliva testing with the suspicion-based program, but the random testing will involve urine testing. “We’re actually covering both bases,” he said.

If a student tests positive, the student will be directed to the Positive Life Program, which is an educational program that teaches kids about the dangers of drug, alcohol and tobacco use. Goetz said the intent is not “to get kids in trouble” but to get them help.

Even if a student tests negative, his or her name will be returned to the pool of names subject to the random testing. It’s entirely possible for the same student to be selected consecutive times, which is exactly what happened the last time Duneland had the random tests, Goetz said, as he relayed how one student was selected three times. But he also noted that such a method ensures that the program is truly random.

The random drug tests will expand to the middle school level for those in extracurricular and co-curricular activities in the 2009-10 school year. Goetz said the rationale for this is that many of the drug problems start at the 7th and 8th grade level. The number of students to be tested at the middle school level has not been determined yet.

The school board didn’t hesitate to approve the random drug testing. School board member Janice Custer said she was impressed eight years ago, when many students said they were happy CHS randomly drug tested, since it “gave them another reason to say no.”

Board member Michael Trout said he supported the random drug testing in 1999 and that he still supports it and feels that most of the community does as well. Board member Ron Stone said he has seen a dramatic decrease in people coming to work with drug problems due to the random drug testing program at his workplace.

Duneland Superintendent Dirk Baer thanked Barkow for his input and recommended that he serve on the Positive Life Program’s advisory board.


Posted 4/8/2008