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San Marcos district pleased with random drug testing

San Marcos Daily Reporter
February 23, 2006

By BRAD ROLLINS - Staff Reporter

About one and a half percent of San Marcos High School students who participate in extracurricular activities tested positive for drug use since a mandatory screening policy took effect at the start of last school year.

Ten of about 700 screenings administered since August 2004 tested positive for drugs or alcohol, said Athletic Director Steve Van Nest, who oversees the program. No students have tested positive more than once, he said.

“Our whole purpose with this was to give students a reason to say no when drugs are made available to them,” Van Nest said. “Based on these numbers we've seen so far, I think it's working. It's at least a good sign.”

The most common detected drugs are marijuana and prescription painkillers or anti-anxiety drugs such as Xanax, he said.

More than 70 percent of the school's 1,900 students are subject to testing through a policy that requires participants in extra- and co-curricular activities to submit to random screenings.

An Austin-based laboratory is contracted to test about 40 student a month through urine samples collected on-campus taken during unannounced test days.

Students who test positive are required to take substance abuse counseling and submit to automatic tests for the next three testing days. A second offense results in a 30 day suspension from activities and further counseling and testing. A third offense means a one-year suspension from activities.

School board members adopted the policy unanimously in May 2004 after drug-related offenses on campus more than tripled the previous year. In a student survey used to justify the program, 48 percent said they had used some type of illegal drug.

The move drew opposition from some parents who argued that random testing conditioned students to accept government intrusion into their personal lives.

The program's first 15 months, however, shows it's working, Superintendent Sylvester J. Perez said.

“The big thing is that we're being proactive. If students do make inappropriate decisions, we have a system in place to try to get them help and discipline,” Dr. Perez said.

He said educators are concerned about drug use among students who do not take part in extracurricular activities, but do not have plans to expand the program.