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Published: Friday, 5/12/2006

Bowling Green schools looking into drug tests for athletes

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

BOWLING GREEN - At the request of some parents concerned about athletes' drug use, Bowling Green Schools Superintendent Hugh Caumartin has started doing his homework on drug-testing policies.

He said yesterday that he'd spoken with North Baltimore and Otsego school officials about their drug-testing programs and how effective they are.

"The jury's out with them. They've caught almost no one for the most part," Mr. Caumartin said. "The strongest argument I've heard is that it does give those kids another reason for not doing it."

At Tuesday night's school board meeting, a group of parents whose children play soccer in the district asked the board to consider drug testing as a way to reduce the number of athletes who use illegal drugs or alcohol.

"The parents said we know this isn't going to happen overnight. We're asking you to just start looking at it and see if it's worth putting in our arsenal," he said. "The good feeling I had was that these parents are going to be active, which has to happen if you're going to be effective."

He said the more the community is involved, including parents and students, the more impact a substance abuse prevention program is going to have.

While some school districts began adopting drug-testing policies in the 1990s, Mr. Caumartin said Bowling Green schools have never considered it. In Wood County, Otsego, Lake, and North Baltimore have had programs for several years.

At North Baltimore, where even nonathletes involved in other extracurricular activities are tested, Superintendent Kyle Clark said he's not convinced that such a policy is the most effective deterrent to student substance abuse. Since he came to the district three years ago, he said only two students have tested positive, which could mean others are not using drugs or alcohol for fear of failing the drug test or that they're not using for other reasons.

"You have to ask at some point if [drug and alcohol use] was such an issue that drug testing was needed and it has been productive, then at one point do you feel your dollars have been spent adequately or are your dollars just going down the drain?" he asked. "Are we deterring it or has the culture changed?"

He said he believes educational efforts that begin at the elementary level and continue through high school are more effective than a drug-testing policy.

Hollie Reedy, staff attorney with the Ohio School Boards Association, said that while the organization does not track the number of districts that have adopted drug testing, she knows the number of inquiries to the OSBA's legal department dropped off sharply after 2003. The cost of drug testing or the perception that a district does not have a drug problem could explain the declining interest statewide, she said.

Cost could be an issue in North Baltimore, where voters defeated two tax issues May 2. Mr. Clark said residents may soon have to decide if drug testing, which the school board pays for, is worth it.

"It comes down to, do you buy $5,000 worth of textbooks or $5,000 of drug testing?" Mr. Clark said.

Otsego charges student-athletes for mandatory preseason drug tests, but the board picks up the cost for random testing throughout the year.

"It is a deterrent," said superintendent Joe Long. "Is it the solution? Is it the answer? I don't think so."

Contact Jennifer Feehan

at jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-353-5972.



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