Nease May Test for Drugs Athletes Targeted for Random Checks

Article excerpt

Nease High School athletes are a step closer to becoming the

first in Northeast Florida subject to random drug tests.

Reaction to a proposal for testing was positive at this week's

meeting of the St. Johns County School Board, which agreed to

hold a public hearing in January.

While school officials aren't saying Nease's drug problems are

worse than at other schools, the move comes after overall

suspensions for alcohol, tobacco and other drugs doubled from

1995-96 to 1996-97.

"I anxiously look forward to being a part of this [implementing

the program]," board member Tommy Allen said at Tuesday's

meeting.

If the proposal is adopted as a pilot program and curbs drug

use, it may be implemented countywide, school Superintendent

Hugh Balboni said.

Drug testing high school athletes and not the entire student

body has been controversial nationwide. The U.S. Supreme Court

upheld such a policy in Oregon in 1995, ruling that athletes are

admired in schools and communities and should be held to a

higher standard. In addition, students athletes under the

influence are more likely to get hurt.

Duval County considered a drug testing policy after that

ruling, but the idea never got off the ground.

Students who test positive at Nease will be suspended from the

team for the remainder of the season, according to the plan.

Parents will be contacted and the student will bereferred for

drug counseling. A second offense will result in suspension from

all interscholastic sports for one year, while a third offense

will bring an indefinite suspension from sports.

Students testing positive also may be suspended from school,

Nease Principal Bill Mignon said. Police will not be notified

unless a student is selling or distributing drugs, he said, and

the exact procedures on who will be tested and when won't be

determined until the school gets board approval.

A public hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. Jan. 20 at Ocean Palms

Elementary School in Ponte Vedra Beach.

Nease's faculty, staff, PTA and school improvement team have

reacted favorably to the idea, which was proposed by a school

coach, Mignon said.

Parents interviewed yesterday also applauded the plan for the

school's 500 athletes, though some students weren't as gung ho.

"I think it's a great idea," said parent Pam Mullarkey. …