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LTE: Drug testing succeeds in O'sideOceanside High School

Monday, March 6, 2006

The editors of the North County Times have come down heavily in opposition to randomly testing high school students for drugs. The NCT seems to believe that schools have no business drug-testing students who engage in extracurricular activities. A number of letter writers have agreed.

However, recent dialogue has not included mention of the success of a similar program in the Oceanside Unified School District. The NCT seems focused solely on its perceptions of the rights of those who might be tested. Here's the rest of the story.

First, any student who possesses, uses, provides drugs or is under the influence of drugs on a school campus or during any school activity is violating state law. The consequences may include expulsion from school for up to a year. By law, schools are to be free of drugs, alcohol and tobacco.

Second, the safety of students at school or school activities should be the highest priority of school districts. In 1997, the Oceanside Unified Board of Education recognized that student athletes under the influence of drugs may endanger themselves or others. A mandatory, random drug-testing program for student athletes was established. Activities such as competitive athletics, especially contact sports, carry a higher risk to student safety than other school activities.

Participation in athletics is not mandatory. Students must volunteer to become student athletes and agree to abide by rules that include abstaining from using drugs. Parents and students must also consent to a physical examination and random drug-testing of the athlete.

Students who are under the influence of drugs while playing a sport are a danger to themselves, but they are also putting their teammates and members of the opposing team at risk. All players and their parents are entitled to a reasonable expectation of safety on the field or court. Athletics and cheerleading are rigorous activities that make great demands of players' minds and bodies and require good judgment. The risk of injury in sports is high enough without subjecting athletes to dangers stemming from a player's drug-impaired judgment on the field.

Third, the drug-testing program is not punitive. If a student tests positive for drugs, the parents of the student are notified, the student is benched from competing, and the student is referred to drug counseling and intervention. In this voluntary program, students are not dropped from the team or expelled if they test positive. Parents and athletes alike have expressed their appreciation for this approach to keeping students safe.

This voluntary, random drug-testing program of athletes and cheerleaders in Oceanside Unified was developed by our dedicated, professional teaching and coaching staff. It has been in operation for nine years and will continue until decided otherwise by the Board of Education or by a court with jurisdiction.

As for some readers' suggestions that we drug-test teachers, superintendents and school officials, I agree. In fact, all are drug-tested before being hired.

Being drug-free is a condition of employment with the district, and employees can be tested at any time.

Kenneth A. Noonan is superintendent of the Oceanside Unified School District and vice president of the California State Board of Education.