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Hall schools might drug test nonathletes, middle-schoolers
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Drug screening in Hall County schools may not be just for athletes anymore.

The Hall County school board heard a recommendation that would expand the school system's current drug screening procedure to middle school athletes and high school students who drive to school, as well as those involved in other extracurricular activities like the band.

Gordon Higgins, director of athletics and community relations for Hall County schools, presented the Drug Screening Review Committee's recommendations to the school board at Monday's meeting.

The strongest expansion of the drug screening procedure, Higgins said, would be expanding it to students with driving permits.

"We definitely do not want the kids driving to and from school that are somehow impaired because of taking drugs," Higgins said.

However, Higgins said there were issues with expanding the drug-testing program to students involved in co-curricular activities such as drama, chorus or band.

A positive drug test may require the members of the band and chorus to be suspended from a performance, and that could affect the students' grades.

"What they're doing on Friday night, marching in the football games, is actually part of the grade they get in the course," Higgins said. "So we're going to have some special challenges in the implementation."

Higgins said the committee met with directors of the bands and choruses, and the directors said the program could be done, despite the challenges.

The committee also recommended expanding the program as it is to middle school athletes. Drug screening of middle school athletes would differ from the high school program in that the first positive test would require an intervention, but the offender would not have to miss games or be taken off the team.

"The whole idea is to catch them when they're maybe making decisions they're not that aware of what the consequences are," Higgins said.

The committee suggested that if the system expanded drug testing to the middle schools that it start with testing student athletes.

"The reason we're not recommending a more ‘across-the-board' with the middle school ... we're going into uncharted territory," Higgins said. "The administrators ... thought they'd be more comfortable ... and have more success with parent buy-in if maybe initially, with middle school students, we started with the athletic program."

The committee has not come up with a solution to pay for the additional drug tests, Higgins said. Currently, the program is funded through athletic budgets generated by ticket sales.

"The committee said it would be very unfair for this additional burden to be passed on down to the athletic budget, because a lot of them are pretty well taxed right now," Higgins said.

Higgins said the board would have to consider other ways to fund the expansion of the program. He suggested that the board consider the $50 per semester fees the schools collect for parking passes. The school board did not take action on the recommendations, but Higgins said if it decided to go forward with them, they should hold public hearings before adopting or implementing the new procedures.