Board says no to drug tests: Schools to look at other prevention measures

Posted: Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District's Board of Education said no to drugs, and testing student-athletes for them, at its meeting Monday night.

"I feel that we seriously examined the issue and am comfortable making the recommendation that, at this time, drug testing our student-athletes is not a good next step for the school district," said district Superintendent Steve Atwater.

The school board unanimously passed Atwater's recommendation.

Since last spring a school board-approved task force has examined the issues surrounding drug testing of students participating in voluntary activities. The examination was in response to a request from the Soldotna High School administration to consider student drug testing.

Several other school districts around the state have testing polices in place, including Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka.

After meeting a few times, the task force could not reach a consensus on a recommendation for the district for or against student drug testing, so Atwater came up with one of his one.

"I arrived at this recommendation after considering all the presented information, including the advice that it is not certain that we would withstand a legal challenge," he said. "Of equal importance to me, however, is deciding whether we've reached the point in our schools that we want to pull students randomly from our schools, from our classes to conduct drug testing."

"I don't believe we've reached that point," Atwater added.

But he also did not want to suggest that drugs are not a problem for some of the district's students.

"I don't feel, however, that randomly drug testing student athletes will accomplish what we all want -- the cessation of drug use by all of our students," Atwater said.

Also included in his recommendation against student drug testing were three other suggestions of implementing the Alaska Association of School Board's School Climate and Connectedness Survey for third- through eighth-grade students, a state Youth Risk Behavior Survey for high school students and enhancing the district's drug and alcohol prevention programs to be evaluated next year.

Board member Penny Vadla, of Soldotna, was on the drug testing task force.

"All of us were really torn with what to do," she said. "There is an issue and there is a problem."

"Hopefully with these three recommendation key points maybe we can have a healthier younger climate because we have some pretty awesome kids in this school district," she said.

Board member Marty Anderson, who represents Sterling and Funny River, agreed.

"It's more prudent to invest our resources and efforts into prevention and education rather than to have some type of testing policy or procedure at this time," he said.

While drug testing might not be the best policy for the district, school board members seemed to agree that drug use among students is still a concern.

"We are in no place to be complacent about the use of drugs in our schools," said Board member Sunni Hilts, of Seldovia.

She said she supported the recommendation that dug testing is not the answer for the district right now.

"I'll be frank to say that I don't know what the answer is," she said. "But I do think we're going to have to continue to discuss this to work together and hopefully find something that does make a difference."

Young people succeed best when they find something worthwhile to do, and the district needs to make a greater effort to provide these types of opportunities, she said.

"Stress something in place of drugs rather than punishing the use of drugs," Hilts said.

Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at brielle.schaeffer@peninsulaclarion.com.



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