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Opposition to drug-testing absent at hearing

POSTED: May 31, 2008 5:00 a.m.
TOM REED/The Times

Stacy Benton, Safe and Drug Free School Coordinator for Hall County Schools, talks about drug statistics at a public hearing about the school system's drug policies Monday evening.

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No one came to the Central Office to oppose the Hall County School System’s proposal to expand its drug testing program to include student drivers, but one parent said he wants to see the school system tackle steroids in athletics.

Problem is, those tests are too expensive for the school system to randomly test 10 students from each school every month, said Gordon Higgins, spokesman for the school system.

"All we see on the news is steroids. We see it about the athletes, the wrestlers; it’s just in our area," Hall County parent Jim Wilson said. "Athletics is where this was started; steroids is the biggest problem with athletics — we’re not doing anything."

But a legitimate steroid test that would test for possibly 60 different kinds of performance enhancing drugs could cost about $200 per test, Higgins said. Testing 10 students from each school every month could deplete the funding sources — athletic ticket sales — pretty quickly.

"For some schools, that would be their entire athletic budget," Higgins said.

Wilson, a father of two athletes in the Hall County School System, said his days as an athlete made him aware of what pressures high school athletes face to be bigger and stronger.

He says recent news stories of pro-wrestlers and baseball players who used performance enhancing drugs make him concerned, and while Wilson said he supports the school system’s efforts to deter high school students from using drugs, he thinks it is important for the school system to take athlete drug testing one step further and check for steroids.

"It makes me think real hard that we’re missing the boat here," Wilson said after the meeting.

Wilson was the only parent asking questions Monday night at the school system’s public hearing about a recent proposal to expand high school drug testing to students who park their cars on campus.

The school system currently uses money from athletic ticket sales to pay for the $25 tests that screen randomly chosen student-athletes for traces of amphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, opiates, synthetic opiates and benzodiazepines such as Valium and Xanax.

Four years after implementing the athlete drug testing program, the school system is now proposing to use part of the $45 schools charge to student drivers for parking permits to include those students in the monthly drug testing.

The program’s goal is to educate students about the dangers and problems that could come as a result of alcohol and drug abuse, Higgins said, and it is an issue Hall Schools Student Assistance Coordinator Stacy Benton said is spreading to younger students every year.

Benton said school surveys show that the average age students begin drinking and using heavy drugs ranges from 11 to 13, and according to those surveys in 2006 and 2007, the only drug use that reportedly decreased was tobacco use.

West Hall Athletic Director Greg Williams, who serves on the school system’s drug testing committee, said most people on the committee supported expanding the drug testing program "for the main reason it gave kids another reason to say no" during the school year.

Just like student-athletes who test positive for drugs, the school system proposes to punish student drivers who test positive the first time by not allowing them to drive to school for 10 percent of the semester.

Higgins said the program has been successful in deterring student athletes from using drugs.

"And we think it will have the same impact on drivers," he said.

The earliest the board could take action on the proposal to expand the drug testing would be at the June meeting, Higgins said. The suggestion is to start the expanded drug testing for the 2008-09 school year. Higgins said that next year, the school system wants to consider more expansion to the program to include all students participating in extra-curricular activities and even later, middle school athletes.



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