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Published: 5/19/2009

Perrysburg residents give input on testing for drugs at schools

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

While several area school districts have been testing high school athletes for drug use for years, the concept is a new one for Perrysburg schools.

At a community meeting last week called to elicit feedback about the district's proposed drug-testing policy, it was clear not all residents are comfortable with the idea or convinced it will be an effective deterrent to drug and alcohol use.

Others expressed full support not only for testing athletes but for testing all students who drive to school.

"Kids are in the parking lot drinking and smoking, and that endangers my children," said Becky Williams, one of the parents who spoke out in favor of testing drivers. "I'd like to see student drivers tested."

Amy Borman, an attorney for the district, explained that based on court decisions across the country, public schools may test athletes because they have a lesser expectation of privacy, because participating in sports is a privilege, not a right, and because there is a safety factor. The same applies to students who are allowed to drive to school.

She said non-competitive extracurricular activities like band or drama are "one of the grey areas," although it's clear schools cannot legally test all students.

"You can't randomly check everyone walking into school because going to public school is a right," Ms. Borman said.

Superintendent Tom Hosler, who took notes during the two-hour-plus meeting, said he was surprised to hear the interest in testing student drivers.

"I really didn't think people would respond to that," he said.

As proposed, the policy does not include student drivers, Mr. Hosler said, in part because the federal grant that will pay for the drug tests over three years only covers testing students involved in sports and competitive extracurricular activities such as cheerleading and lacrosse. He said nearly a third of the 1,400 students at the high school participate in sports.

Under the proposed policy, affected students in grades 7-12 would be required to undergo drug testing at an announced time before the start of the season and at unannounced random times. Mr. Hosler said school officials would not be involved selecting who would be tested randomly.

Kyle Prueter, owner of Great Lakes Bio Medical that performs drug testing and a member of Perrysburg's committee on drug testing, said his company would select students for random testing using a random number generator. The only students who would be singled out for random testing would be those who had a prior positive drug test.

"Random testing is the key to keeping them clean," Mr. Prueter explained.

Bob Walker was among the parents at the meeting unconvinced drug testing would be effective. He pointed to studies that have shown drug testing doesn't work and questioned what impact it would have on students who are interested in sports but who enjoy partying with their friends too.

That student, he said, "has a choice and he might decide [sports] aren't worth the hassle."

Mr. Walker also questioned whether it was athletes who represented the most serious drug problem in the district. "I'm going to guess no," Mr. Walker said.

Athletic Director Ray Pohlman countered that he had dealt with cases of athletes caught using drugs or alcohol every year. Alcohol is the biggest problem, he said, prescription drugs are the second.

While athletes will be the focus of the testing, it's not clear whether they will be tested for steroid use - something several parents said seemed logical.

Mr. Hosler said the district would test for up to eight unspecified drugs. A list of substances in the proposed policy includes anabolic steroids, nicotine, and alcohol as well as illegal drugs like marijuana and cocaine, although Mr. Hosler said testing for steroids is considerably more expensive and may not be done.

Mr. Hosler, who had been superintendent in a Michigan school district that had performed student drug testing, said one can argue how effective testing students is, but the bottom line is, "kids are using drugs and drugs are harmful and that often gets lost in the debate. Kids are using drugs and we are just trying to give them more tools to say no."

Some residents at the meeting suggested the grant money - about $34,000 over three years - be used for other things. The grant is for drug testing only, Mr. Hosler said, and the district either must use it for testing or return it to the federal government.

Mr. Hosler said the committee on drug testing plans to meet in the next couple weeks to talk about the comments heard at the community meeting and decide "if there's anything we need to tweak with the policy. I suspect there may be some changes to the policy."

The policy ultimately will be forwarded to the school board for adoption.



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