Board Supports Drug Testing; Nassau: Students, Staff Could Be Affected

Article excerpt

Byline: Alison Trinidad, Nassau Neighbors staff writer

Nassau County School Board members say they would support a systematic drug-testing program for all school employees and students, but whether the program is legal, or if they can afford it, remains to be seen.

Neither the district nor any of its schools have a regular drug-testing program. Opponents of drug testing say it is an ineffective and expensive deterrent. But many, including school officials and parents, say it's worth looking into.

A proposal to test only student athletes was the main topic of a School Board workshop Thursday, but the discussion turned to possibly expanding the proposal to include adults and more students. Those who spoke agreed that drug use endangers the safety of those surrounded by it, and that the concern for safety should justify drug testing on school grounds.

School district administrators have drafted a district policy that would, if approved, allow schools to randomly test student athletes for illegal drug and alcohol use. Coaches also would have the authority to request a drug test if there is "reasonable suspicion" that the athlete is using, or has used drugs, in violation of School Board policy.

To participate in school athletics, students and their parents would have to sign a form consenting to the drug test program. Those who test positive for illegal substances would be subject to punishment, including removal from their athletic teams.

The school system has various drug prevention programs already in place throughout the schools, but counselors who work with the students say drug and alcohol use still is a problem.

"It's an issue that needs to be addressed," said Susan Woodford, the substance abuse counselor at Fernandina Beach High School. "The prevention piece is vital, but I believe that drug testing is prevention."

Parents at the workshop said there's a drug problem in the schools and in the community.

"Nobody's going to admit how bad it is," said Sherian Berteau, a Fernandina Beach parent who tests her three teenagers for drugs at home. "If the athlete wants to play . . . they're gong to think twice about smoking that joint. . . . Peer pressure is great among teenagers. I think it'd be a great deterrent."

But some parents said athletes should not be singled out.

"If you choose to test, test to the fullest capacity," parent Ron Crews told board members.

If the district policy is approved as written, schools would not be required to test student athletes for drugs. But if an individual school chose to do so, and could find a way to pay for it, its testing policy would have to meet the guidelines set by the district.

The issue was prompted by a policy proposal from Fernandina Beach High School in February. …