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Gainesville school board to review drug test program
Subject will be brought up again at the June 3 meeting
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Gainesville officials have a few questions to answer before moving forward with a drug testing program at the high school.

The matter was tabled at a Monday Gainesville City Schools board meeting.

"It is not that we are against the policy," Chairman Willie Mitchell said at the meeting. "I don't want anyone to think our ‘no' vote tonight is a ‘no' vote on the drug policy."

Mitchell said the drug testing program will be brought up again at the June 3 meeting.

Board members want to address three concerns in the proposed program — whether the program includes disciplinary action, how other schools have used similar programs and why it only applies to student athletes and drivers.

Stanley Hawkins, of the Gainesville-based law firm Harben, Hartley & Hawkins, said the procedure would require students to agree to the drug tests to participate in athletics or drive to school. A positive test would limit the student's privilege of participating in those activities.

"There was no criminal or disciplinary result that could flow from having a positive drug test," Hawkins said. "The consequence that could flow from it was denial of the privilege for which the student had agreed subjectively."

Hall County, which already has a drug testing procedure in place for student athletes and drivers, has a three strikes-type consequence, said Gordon Higgins, spokesman for the system.

At the first positive result, students are banned from 10 percent of their games or lose parking privileges for 10 percent of the year, equivalent to 18 school days. A second positive suspends the student from games or parking. Anyone who reaches a third positive is loses all athletic or driving privileges for a calendar year. Parents are notified after the first and all subsequent positive results.

The Gainesville High program will follow a similar system.

"It's progressive for up to three offenses," Dyer said.

At the first offense, students will be banned from 20 percent of games or lose parking privileges for 20 percent of the year, and by the third offense students would also be removed of all privileges.

Dyer said athletes and drivers were chosen for the program because of concerns about steroid use and students driving to school under the influence, both of which could affect the safety of the school.

She said there had been discussion about including other extracurricular activities, but many — such as marching band or debate team — are associated with an academic class, making revoking those privileges more difficult. Expanding to include activities not associated with a class is possible, she said.

Several residents and coaches spoke out in support of the proposed program at the board meeting.

"I believe this policy represents those students who could have been helped had we had a random drug testing policy in place," said Greg Brooks, a member of the Hall County Drug Free Coalition. "You have the chance to save at least one young person's life with this."

Bruce Miller, Gainesville High football coach, said the policy was a way to hold student athletes accountable for their actions on and off the field.

"I have not heard anything negative from students, which speaks volumes," Dyer said.

The tests, which include but are not limited to marijuana, amphetamines, barbituates, cocaine and opiates, cost $25 each, and Dyer estimated a maximum of 100 would be administered each year, amounting to $2,500 total. She said the tests will be covered by gate receipts from athletic events and fees students pay for parking on campus.

Right now those fees cover parking lot and event security and administrative costs, but Dyer said using fees for other charges would not affect the amount of security at games and during the school day.

Hall County also funds its program via gate receipts and student fees, Higgins said.

Gainesville's program, like Hall's, would use randomly drawn numbers and have medical professionals test the results.

Higgins said the Hall County program was met with general support from parents, and added he had only received one phone call from a parent complaining that a child was randomly picked twice for a drug test.

"By the nature of being random, a kid could get picked more than once," he said. "In the years we've had the program, we've only had one student athlete get to the second positive level. That speaks to the success of it — once they mess up once, they don't want to mess up again."

Gainesville High Principal Chris Mance said the drug testing program will give students an out when it comes to resisting peer pressure.

"It gives students the opportunity to say, ‘I can't do that because I might get drug tested,'" he said. "I think the time is now to get this through."