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School drug testing issue hearings upcoming

The Willcox School District (Arizona) is holding two public meetings this week to gather ideas, comments and suggestions regarding a proposed student drug testing policy.

The meetings will be Tuesday, May 30, at 6:30 p.m., at the Community Center, and Wednesday, May 31, at noon, also at the Community Center.

The meetings will be for the same purpose, but two different times are planned so that anyone wishing to attend may choose a time that suits them, said Sally White, director of Willcox Against Substance Abuse. Everyone is invited. Following the two town hall meetings and evidence of need, a policy would be drafted and presented to the board in June or July for approval, amendments or rejection.

"Illegal use of drugs is an increasing problem in our society," said Superintendent Dr. Don Roberts. "In my opinion, the district needs to send a strong message. We want to give kids a way not to do (meth/illegal drugs). If we can keep just one kid from trying (meth), it's worth doing."

Roberts said that the district can verify a large amount of drug/alcohol abuse, and therefore can justify the random drug testing.

"We owe it to our community, parents and students. This gives kids a chance to say no to peer pressure. They can just say they don't want to get caught," he said.

Any seventh- through 12th-grade student participating in extra-curricular activities, including sports, fine arts, or others such as FFA and FBLA, would be subject to random testing.

White said, "From the comments we have heard, it's running about 7 to 1 for people who are supporting student drug testing, but the ones who are not for it are strongly against it."

She added that those against it seem to be against it for one of two reasons. The first is that the policy may infringe upon the rights of students or they feel it is harassing students.

The second reason is that no punishment, such being arrested is allowed for students who test positive for narcotics.

"We may not suspend, expel or academically punish a child and we may not give results to police," White said. "There are lots of consequences we can work with, but those are against the law."

"We are working very hard on coming up with someplace to refer students who test positive. The cost would be deferred to the family, but we need to work on a seamless transition so the procedure is not so difficult that they won't do it," she said.

"All over the state we're grappling with that. All over the nation, there are not enough resources to help people in this situation, but in Arizona, we're on the low end of the scale. Especially with kids.

"In order to make this (student drug-testing policy) worthwhile, we need to be able to give students testing positive and their families some course of action to help them, such as counseling," White said.

Discussion so far has been for a plan to randomly test students in extra-curricular activities. Those testing positive could be removed from their extra-curricular activity for some pre-determined amount of time, whether it be a specified number of games/practices/events or until they test negative.

"We're still in the information gathering phase. We need to determine if it is time to do this in Willcox or not. And if it is, we want to be able to get it in place fairly quickly," she said.