Districts test students for drug usage

080417...R WGH 6...Warren...08-04-17...WGH #12 _____________________ looks for a receiver as WGH #2 _________________ pursues as coaches watch during practice...by R. Michael Semple

WARREN — Students in Warren City and Howland Local schools who will participate in any athletic program this year must be drug-free, and the way the districts are ensuring their student-athletes are clean is by putting into place new drug testing policies.

The districts joined a growing chorus of local school districts that have implemented similar policies, including LaBrae Local School District, Girard City Schools and Champion Local and Austintown Local schools.

These types of drug tests were ruled constitutional in 1995 by the U.S Supreme Court, which expanded its ruling seven years later to include students participating in other activities, like the marching band and chess club, according to a report from the National Center on Addiction and Drug Abuse.

But these type of policies aren’t well-received by some, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, which is opposed to random student drug testing without legal authorization.

Warren City Schools

Tests will be mandatory for all student-athletes. And, students participating in other extracurricular activities and those wanting to drive to school will be subject to random testing. The tests will be done on students in grades seven to 12.

Great Lakes Biomedical of Perrysburg has been hired to obtain the urine samples that will be tested for several substances, including alcohol, amphetamines, anabolic steroids, opiates, cocaine, LSD, marijuana, nicotine and ecstasy.

The first failed test will result in an evaluation by a counselor or agency, which is paid for by the student’s family. The student, who must follow recommendations given by the counselor, will not be allowed to participate in their activity for at least 14 days. And weekly or random drug tests may be done.

A second offense results in another evaluation and being banned from the activity for up to 28 days. Students who fail three tests cannot participate in the activity for one year.

A positive test result will not affect the student’s academic record, nor will the results become part of student’s permanent record.

For a copy of Warren School District’s new policy, click here

District officials said the new policy is the district’s effort to take a proactive stance to create a “truly drug-and alcohol-free school program.”

“Nothing that occurred in our schools triggered this policy,” Superintendent Steve Chiaro said. “It was what we have been seeing in the community.”

In the 2015-16 school year, Chiaro said, 15 students in one district building had parents and care givers die because of drug abuse.

“That is not considering what was occurring to relatives of students in our other buildings during the same year,” Chiaro said. “The problem continued into the 2016-17 school year.”

The policy is one aspect of a multipronged approach to address drug use in the district. Other ways include working closely with mental health and recovery programs in the community.

Three hundred to 350 students participating in the district’s athletic programs, representing about 25 percent of the students in grades seven to 12 will be required to take the tests, said Bill Nicholson, district athletic director. When non-athletes are added, the policy could affect up to 50 percent of the distict’s seventh-to 12th-grade students.

Howland Local Schools

Superintendent Kevin Spicher said district officials discussed its new drug testing policy for 18 months before the school board approved it on June 30.

“The biggest concerns we heard from some parents and community residents were about whether we were violating the civil liberties of our students,” Spicher said. “It does not.”

Under Howland’s program, students participating in extracurricular sports, are in the marching band and those that use district parking lots are eligible to be tested. At least 10 percent of the students in each program will be eligible for random testing. There is no mandatory testing.

“We choose these programs because it is believed they have the greatest number of students that will be impacted,” Spicher said. “The board is discussing the possibility of additional activities once this pilot year is completed.”

The district is providing names of the students to On Demand Drug Testing, which uses a computer program to randomly pick the students. If there is a positive test result, the student’s parents will be contacted to determine if he / she is taking a prescription that could affect the results. If there is no other reason for the failed test, the student will subject to actions at the school.

Students testing positive cannot participate in their activity either for several weeks or through the season depending on the number of times the students tested positive.

Spicher said the policy is not punitive, but is a way to help students and their families fight peer pressure to try drugs. “Students can blame their reluctance to take these substances on the school policies,” he said.

“Test results are not sent to police or the juvenile justice center, but to their parents,” he said. “Our goal is to prevent use, but, failing that, we are looking to help students by pointing them to places where they can get assistance.”

For a copy of the Howland School District’s new policy click here

ACLU objections

Gary Daniel, an attorney with the ACLU of Ohio, said the civil rights organization is opposed to warrantless random student drug testing.

“The ACLU believes it is a violation of students fourth amendment rights,” he said. “The amendment focuses on unreasonable search and seizures.”

The searches, he said, follow the failed approach used during President Richard Nixon’s war on drugs. “We cannot arrest, convict or incarcerate our way to reducing drug use in this country.”

“By every objective measure, the war on drug policies have failed over the last 40 years,” Daniel said. “Typically, if kids have a problem, you don’t want to remove him from support systems that may help move them away from the drug usage.”

Existing drug testing programs

LaBrae schools is entering its third year of mandatory drug testing for student-athletes and random testing for students who park their vehicles at any property owned by the district.

Austintown schools, meanwhile, has had a drug testing program for its student-athletes since the late 1990s, but its complexion has changed over time.

At LaBrae, the first violation will result in the student losing the amount of contests equal to 20 percent in the season, or, if needed, the next season. Students must get a professional assessment and adhere to the recommendations provided. Failure to follow the recommendation will result in dismissal from the sports program.

Students who fail a second test will be banned from the sport for one year and he / she must complete a professional education program to address the substance abuse problem. A third offense will result in the student not being able to participate in any athletic programs for the remainder of their time at LaBrae.

Among what the test will screen for is LSD, alcohol, marijuana, amphetamines, opiates, anabolic steroids, nicotine and cocaine.

There have been situations where a student before he or she was tested stepped forward to admit there may be a problem with passing the test, said LaBrae Superintendent A.J. Calderone.

“The residual benefit is we’ve opened lines of communications with the student, their parents and the district,” Calderone said. “This strengthens our partnership in helping students get and remain clean.”

When Austintown schools implemented its policy in the late 1990s, drug testing was mandatory for all student-athletes. The policy later changed to random testing.

“We test approximately 10 students per week during the course of the school year,” Superintendent Vince Colaluca said. “We are looking to expand the types of students tested to include different club activities.”

Similar to other school districts, Colaluca said their approach is to find ways to help students stay away from illegal drug and alcohol use.

One failed test and the student cannot participate in their sport for 25 percent of the schedule and must complete a chemical dependency program. Failing will also result in the suspension of parking privileges. A second failed test means the student will be banned from the sport for the rest of the year.

Drugs tested for include anabolic steroids, alcohol, amphetamines, marijuana, cocaine, LSD, nicotine and opiates.