Just say no -- to drug testing

Posted: Friday, January 14, 2011

We think the Kenai Peninsula School District board and administration made the right call this week in rejecting a random drug-testing program for student athletes.

The school board deliberated the issue Monday night, relying on the work of a task force that has been studying the question since last spring. The question was a legitimate one for the school system to ponder: Are random drug tests a step this community wants to take in our efforts to eradicate illicit drug use among our students?

The policy is not new. Other school districts in Alaska and the Lower 48 already have them. Thoughtful people on both for and against drug testing have a plethora of studies done over the years to back their positions.

And hardly anyone would take the position that our school district, or any school district, shouldn't play a major role, partnering with parents and other social entities, in keeping our youth from abusing drugs.

The argument for conducting random drug testing isn't radical, necessarily. We use the same basic approach at airports when Transportation Safety Administration officers choose travelers and bags for closer inspection. The tactic of randomness is based on probability -- that, and fear of being caught.

That's all well and good until that random selection targets your child. That's when randomness starts to feel intrusive, because, as every parent will assert with confidence, their own child doesn't "do" drugs. And that's when you begin to wonder if random selection is right or fair.

Indeed, Superintendent Steve Atwater expressed the concern of legality when he recommended against drug testing to the board Monday night. But more important to Atwater was the sense that drug testing was not the right solution.

"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.

Each community has to decide itself what is the correct approach. This week, our community, with a unanimous vote of the school board, said there are other methods to more vigorously pursue. Those included 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.

We agree that those are positive approaches we want to try first. As board member Sunni Hilts, of Seldovia, said: "Stress something in place of drugs rather than punishing the use of drugs."

In short: In the battle against illicit drug use among students, positive reinforcement is the better tactic.

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