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To the test? Drug-screening task force gives presentation to school board

Posted: Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A task force created to examine possible drug testing programs in schools is recommending that the Kenai Peninsula School Board take delicate steps when establishing a program for borough schools.

In a presentation by the task force Monday, Assistant Superintendent Sean Dusek said that other school districts had implemented programs without legal challenge, but said that the Alaska State Supreme Court deemed drug testing employees in non-safety sensitive positions illegal. The Alaska constitution grants citizens a right to privacy.

Dusek, who chairs the task force, said that schools in Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan have instituted district-wide testing programs. But Lower Kuskokwim let local schools decide whether to implement programs or not. He said that he wanted to thoroughly research the issue before taking any action.

"This is a big deal," he said. "There are lots of costs and unintended costs that could happen."

Superintendent Steve Atwater said that the program can only test students that participate in extra-curricular activities. Student athletes are the most common group tested, Atwater said, but members of the drama club, school choir or chess team fell into the category, as well.

The superintendent sent a letter to the board last March that described various testing programs in the Lower 48, from a voluntary high school testing program in Fresno, Calif., to the school district in Hobart, Ind. that tests any high school and middle school student that participates in an extra-curricular program.

Dusek said that the cost, age range and frequency of testing were still being debated by the task force.

The assistant superintendent said that the school board should invite community input to see if it feels the need for testing and, if so, in what scope.

"We need more community input to understand where the community stands on the issue," said board member Penny Vadla.

Police data provided to the task force showed a decrease in drug-related incidents among middle and high schoolers, but Dusek emphasized that less arrests doesn't equate to less usage.

"Kids are kids. They'll find a way," said board member Marty Anderson.

School Board Treasurer Lynn Hohl advised the task force to consult Alaska State Trooper and court records for information relating to school age drug crime.

In addition to stepping up drug prevention and education programs in place, the task force recommended encouraging student meetings to discuss the plan. Atwater felt that the students would speak more candidly amongst their peers. Student government leaders would lead the meetings to gain a better understanding of middle and high schoolers' opinions.

Tony Cella can be reached at tony.cella@peninsulaclarion.com.



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