As more and more high schools across the nation grapple with the decision whether or not to randomly drug test student athletes, Vero Beach High School in Indiana Hills Florida decided to punt on the decision rather than incorporate it as the law of the land at a recent Indian River County School District Board meeting last week.
In June 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court broadened the authority of public schools to test students for illegal drugs. Voting 5 to 4 in Pottawatomie County v. Earls, the court ruled to allow random drug tests for all middle and high school students participating in competitive extracurricular activities. The ruling greatly expanded the scope of school drug testing, which previously had been allowed only for student athletes.
The Indian River County School District voted last week to bring the issue of random drug testing at Vero Beach High School to a public hearing in March. It is a classic case of whether to compromise a student’s privacy or be realistic that drug use among high school students and athletes has reached epic proportions. The district is modeling the proposal after the same policy at nearby Sebastian River High School, which has tested students for drugs for two decades.
“The School Board desires to be proactive in ensuring the safety of all students participating in interscholastic extracurricular competitive activities, and to undermine the effects of peer pressure by providing an additional and legitimate reason for students to refuse to use illegal drugs,” according to the district’s school board agenda.
“The School Board desires to encourage student participants in interscholastic extracurricular competitive activities who use drugs to participate in drug treatment programs.”
Consider these facts from a recent survey taken in neighboring Palm Beach County. The survey, conducted by the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) revealed that the number of Palm Beach County teens using marijuana, increased from 13.4 percent in 2012 to 14.8 percent in 2014. The DCF releases a survey every other year on teen substance abuse in each county.
The new policy, set to take effect July 1, if approved, would require every high school in the district to implement a random drug testing policy for all students who participate in sports, clubs, competitive performing arts like band and chorus, and competitive academic teams like debate, which would be overseen by a Random Student Drug Testing Coordinator at each school.
Students and their parents would be required to sign a one-year consent form for the drug tests in order to participate in activities, and records generated from the program would be kept confidential, except for Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) related tests that come back positive for a schedule three narcotic, which would require school officials to report the result to the FHSAA.
Ten percent of boys and ten percent of girls participating in activities would be tested at least once per athletic season (fall, winter, spring) at the principal’s discretion. Those students to be tested would be selected through a random numeric lottery and required to submit a urine sample within two hours, district documents show.
If students test positive, they’d face a series of consequences. For an athlete’s first offense, they would have the choice between participating in drug treatment and weekly drug tests for six weeks, or a suspension for the remainder of the current season (not including practice) and the next. If positive twice in one year, they would be suspended for the remainder of the season and the next, not including practice. Two positives in three years would earn a student athlete a suspension for the current season and the following two, not including practice, according to school board records. The proposed consequences for students in other extracurricular activities are similar, except with semesters instead of seasons.
Following models established in the workplace, some schools have initiated random drug testing and/or reasonable suspicion/cause testing. This usually involves collecting urine samples to test for drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, PCP, and opioids (both heroin and prescription pain relievers).
Students involved in extracurricular activities and subject to in-school drug testing reported less substance use than comparable students in high schools without drug testing, according to a new evaluation released by the Institute of Education Sciences.
Many parents who discussed the proposed policy online seemed to support it, but several called for school administrators to also submit to random drug tests.
“This is a great idea. It will stop a lot of early drug use in the kids, and will be a help to parents who aren’t aware of a problem,” said one parent. “When they grow up, they’ll find that drug testing is routine in most companies.”
“I think with so many drug related incidents in professional sports and collegiate as well, all schools should highly consider random drug testing,” said Karen Corcoran Walsh, founder of Inspirations for Youth and Families Teen Rehab and the Cove Center for Recovery Adult Rehab. “By starting drug testing at an early age, student athletes will become more aware of the dangers of drug abuse and its consequences. Perhaps, we will see less incidence of drug abuse in the higher levels of sports competition.”