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Hall County School Board to hold public hearing on drug testing
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The Hall County Board of Education will hold a public hearing Monday night to solicit comment about a proposal to expand mandatory, random drugs tests to include students who drive to school.

Set for 7 p.m. at the school system’s central office at 711 Green St., the meeting will include presentations both from school system personnel and staff from the Northeast Georgia Health System Toxicology Department, the lab which performs the tests. There also will be an opportunity for the public to ask questions.

Currently, the county school system conducts random tests only of student-athletes. The school system proposes to broaden the policy, which now requires student-athletes to submit to random screenings, to include students who are issued parking permits.

Gordon Higgins, director of community relations and athletics for the system, said results have shown the testing has been a successful deterrent since the program began in 2004. The first year, there were eight positive results; this past year, there were only two, Higgins said.

"From that first round of testing the word got out quickly that ‘Hey, if you’re doing something, they’re testing and you’re going to get caught,’" Higgins said

He added that officials hope testing would work as a deterrent for students driving to school, as well. Those who don’t want to lose the privilege "might think twice at a party" before drinking or taking drugs, he said.

He said the goals of the proposal, which came out of a committee made up of teachers, coaches and members of the community, is to keep students safe and to include a larger number of students in the drug-testing program.

Higgins said the school system not only aims to help students avoid the health problems associated with drug use, but also the safety issues stemming from a driver who is under the influence.

"Our goal isn’t to catch and punish, our goal really is to intervene and educate," Higgins said. "All students who have tested positive have to go into a drug counseling program, along with their parents."

There also has been discussion about expanding drug testing to include students in extracurricular activities, Higgins said.

Under the current policy, an athlete who tests positive for the first time will be banned for 10 percent of the team’s scheduled games for the season, excluding practice scrimmages.

With a second offense, the student will be suspended from the team but can apply for reinstatement after at least four weeks if the student can provide a negative drug screen to school administrators, agree to continue with drug counseling and be subjected to future testing on demand. The principal, head coach and athletic director will decide on reinstatement.

A third positive screen will result in suspension from all interscholastic athletic competition for one calendar year from the date of the result.

Gate receipts from schools’ athletic budgets now cover the costs of athletes’ testing. District officials have discussed using parking fees to cover student drivers.

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.

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