Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

School Phasing in Drug Testing

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

School Phasing in Drug Testing

Article excerpt

IMAGINE: For now, those who are tested volunteer, but it could become a rule

NORTH PORT

Melissa Fierro loves to play soccer and isn't afraid to speak her mind, which is why she will make a talented lawyer someday, her mother figures.

Melissa, a 14-year-old high school freshman, gets good grades and doesn't get into trouble. She doesn't do drugs, either, and she proved it this year when she volunteered to be drug tested at school.

Melissa was one of about 140 students -- nearly a quarter of the 600 students at her campus -- to get tested as part of a popular program at the Imagine charter school in North Port. The drug testing is conducted by D-Fy, or Drug-Free Youth, a local nonprofit initiative spurred by volunteers.

With the blessing of both students and parents, a school official says the drug testing could expand later this year.

Imagine School is looking to drug test students in grades 6 through 10 who play sports or do extracurricular activities like band, said Rudolph Banuelos, the school's athletic director and dean of students.

"We're going slowly but we'll probably make it mandatory for all our sport teams and clubs," Banuelos said.

The charter school isn't the only one in the region to drug test.

Manatee County high school athletes and cheerleaders get random mandatory drug tests. Sarasota Military Academy, a charter school in downtown Sarasota, also does some random drug testing.

At Imagine, the voluntary drug tests are popular for a simple reason -- goodies.

If the teenagers pass the tests, they get free D-Fy cards that win them discounts at McDonald's and local businesses plus free membership to the city-run community center.

For parents, it's peace of mind.

"Sometimes parents are blind. They don't see what their kids are doing," said Melissa's mother, Araceli Pineda, a financial specialist for a nonprofit. "It's like my daughter says, 'I don't have nothing to hide.'"

1,450 members

The partnership between D-Fy and Imagine started late last school year, and it is gaining momentum.

D-Fy operates in the Morgan Family Community Center but has permission to go to Imagine School -- the only school it goes to -- to administer drug tests weekly. …

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