The Port Aransas Independent School District Board of Trustees recently discussed the possibility of establishing a random drug-testing program. No decision has been made on whether to do it.
All of the trustees have said they need to see more information on the issue before deciding whether they'll vote to enact a program. But some trustees said they likely would be in favor of it if the program's focus would be on intervention and counseling, not punishment, for students who test positive.
Trustees could hold a vote within the next three months on whether to start a program, said Rick Adams, president of the board. If trustees vote in early 2008 to establish a program, actual testing probably would begin the following fall, said Billy Wiggins, superintendent of PAISD.
While the drug issue is not expected to be on the agenda for the school board meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. today, Thursday, Dec. 20, members of the public still could address the board on the matter during the portion of the meeting reserved for citizens to make comments on any topic. The meeting will be at the district's administration building on Station Street.
The matter could go on the agenda, at least for discussion, at the board'January meeting. That meeting currently is scheduled for 6 p.m. Jan. 10, but it probably will be rescheduled to 6 p.m. Jan. 17, Wiggins said.
Trustees have talked occasionally about the idea of a drug-testing program in the past, but discussions never led to a vote, because trustees didn't see enough legal precedent for guidance, Adams said.
Trustees extensively discussed the idea at their last meeting, on Nov. 15. Adams said he had the matter put on the agenda because the state has created a program that will be testing for steroid use at high schools throughout Texas.
"We've got to start talking about steroid testing," Adams said. "If we have to talk about that, it's good to talk about (all drug testing) at the same time," he said. (See related story on steroid testing, Page 10A.)
There also is more legal precedent for establishing random testing for illegal drugs now, he said.
If a program is established, Port Aransas High School would be the targeted campus, at least at first, Wiggins said.
Port Aransas High School Principal Travis Longanecker said the school district should institute a drug-testing program if that is what the community desires. But Longanecker said he personally opposes drug testing at the high school because he doesn't believe it will fix the problem and for other reasons. (For more comments from Longanecker on the issue, see Education Notes, Page 9A)
PAISD's athletic director, Steve Reaves, however, has expressed support for the idea of a drug-testing program, saying it could deter students from taking drugs.
A random drug-testing program would affect only those students driving on campus or taking part in extra-curricular activities such as University Interscholastic League (UIL) competitions, Wiggins said. At PAHS, more than half of the students take part in UIL competitions in everything from athletic games to band contests.
The program would be aimed at students who drive on campus and those in extra-curricular activities because they are the students who can be legally tested, due to the fact that driving on campus and extra-curricular activities are privileges, not rights, Wiggins said.
The program, Wiggins said, would test for certain drugs, including marijuana. He said he had not yet determined what other drugs or whether alcohol might be targeted. He said PAISD still has more research to do before all of the details of a proposed program can be presented.
The testing method most likely would be urinalysis, Wiggins said. Schools where drug testing is done generally do it on campus, he said.
In the Nov. 15 meeting, trustees asked Wiggins to research the drug testing issue and come back to the board
'later with information including what kinds of litigation school districts have been involved in as a result of drug testing programs they have enacted.
'At that meeting, some trustees said they might favor a drug testing program as long as it's not a "gotcha" sort of effort but one that would emphasize intervention, resulting in counseling for students who test positive.
"These are life-changing things … if we can get them now, get them in counseling," Adams said.
In an interview with the South Jetty after the school board meeting, Adams said any drug -testing program should be accompanied by additional education against alcohol and drug use.
Trustee Ken Dunton said some parents of Port Aransas children are "in self-denial" about drugs. But he said he wants to hear from the principals of Port Aransas' schools before he decides whether to vote for a drug-testing program.
Dunton said he wants to "collect information from them on the (drug and alcohol) situation, how they perceive the situation, from their point of view, from their positions at the school, where they see it every day."
Dunton said he also wants to know what the specifics of a testing program would be and what sorts of actions would be taken if students test positive.
Trustee Ann Appling said a critical question is whether a testing program will act as a deterrent or, on the other hand, simply will drive students away from extra-curricular activities.
"I would hope it would act as a deterrent," Appling said.
Appling told the South Jetty she has not decided whether to support a random drug-testing program. If the school district does start a program, she said, it should have "a rock-solid format" on what the consequences would be for a positive drug test.
Trustee Margaret Price said she struggles with the idea of whether to support a drug-testing program. It's hard not to see it as a "gotcha" kind of effort, she said. Also, she said it should be the responsibility of parents to make sure children aren't taking illegal drugs.
Price said she needs more information before she can decide how to vote.
"I want to know: What are we talking about in terms of hard numbers?" Price said in an interview. "How many kids have been caught and is it for alcohol? Or is it drugs? Are we looking one, or 50? I just don't know. I just want to know that (a program) would be benefi- cial, to spend our dollars that way."
Wiggins said the district should consider the possibility of "false positives" - the idea that tests occasionally could mistakenly identify a student as taking an illegal drug even though he or she did not. Anytime a drug test turns up positive, repeated testing for confirmation likely would be in order, Wiggins said.
Wiggins said he doesn't have a strong opinion about drug testing.
"I have served in districts where they have random drug testing," Wiggins said. "As a superintendent, I just don't want to turn my back on an issue that has impact on students. So, I realize - I have no blinders on - I know there is alcohol and drug use in schools across the state and nation. And Port Aransas is one of them. I want to do everything I can to help our kids and take preventative measures. If we can use preventative measures, we should, and drug testing could be one of them."
Trustee Rita Reed, who taught at Port Aransas schools for 27 years before being elected trustee, said many students feel drug testing is unfair, casting suspicion on them without cause.
However, taking part in UIL events is a privilege, not a right, Reed said. She said she likely would support a drugtesting program if it is well thought-out and focused on intervening and helping students. Trustee Lorraine Stern said she agreed with that view.
Trustee Michael Garlough said in an interview that he had not decided yet whether to support a drug-testing program. He said he wanted to see how the policy would be worded, how many students would be tested and that students would not be subject to heavy penalization in any case.
At the meeting, Garlough asked if students involved in UIL might be unlikely to get involved in drugs. Wiggins responded: "You'd be surprised."
Also at the meeting, Longanecker estimated that 20 to 22 the approximately 160 students enrolled at PAHS have visited the school counselor this year for drug and alcohol counseling.
No students' names were mentioned during the meeting. Counseling at the high school is confidential.
In an interview, Longanecker said most of the counseling consists of informal conversations with the school's counselor about how students can make better choices. It's not a formal 12-step program of the Alcoholics-Anonymous variety. But PAHS this year has referred some students to off-campus rehabilitation programs, both in-patient and outpatient, Longanecker said.
More than half PAHS students have used alcohol or drugs at some point, Longanecker estimated. Of those students, alcohol is the most-often used substance, followed by marijuana, he said.
Most students who have used drugs or alcohol probably are not habitual users, Longanecker said. But he added that any use is a bad thing that could escalate to something worse, like addiction, injury and death.
Longanecker emphasized that PAISD should do what the community wants it to do with regard to a drug-testing program. He said he will support whatever the school board decides.
But Longanecker said he personally doesn't believe such a program would solve the problem and that, moreover, it could hurt the high school's current efforts to help students avoid drugs and alcohol.
"I'm not against drug-testing per se," Longanecker said. "I'm just against it here."
Largely because PAHS is a small school, school administrators and other employees enjoy closer and more open relationships with students than at many schools, Longanecker said. Trust that has been developed in those relationships could be harmed if a drug-testing program is established, Longanecker said.
Longanecker said he also believes the responsibility of monitoring children's behavior regarding drugs and alcohol should rest mainly with parents. Schools should only assist, not spearhead, in that effort, he said.
Also, Longanecker said, the most hard-core drug users in school don't tend to be involved in extra-curricular activities, so the drug testing would not reach them.
In addition, he said, most substance users are using alcohol, and testing most likely won't detect it, because alcohol dissipates from the body so quickly.
It would be better to spend thousands of dollars on educating students against drinking and taking drugs instead of a testing program, Longanecker said. The money also would be better spent hiring a student resource officer - a police officer who would have an office at PAHS and could provide students with much more education against drugs and alcohol, he said.
It's hard to see how a drug-testing program would not end up as a "gotcha" situation, Longanecker said. Current official policy at PAHS already allows for students sometimes to be punished when school officials learn that the student apparently has been drinking or taking drugs off campus, Longanecker said. A drug-testing program simply would be another method of determining that drug use took place, and it would have to allow for at least the possibility of punishment if it is to fit in with current policy, he said.
Certain corrective actions are taken when PAHS teachers and administrators determine a student has been drinking alcohol or taking drugs, even when it is done off-campus, Longanecker said.
School officials might learn of the behavior because the student received a ticket for being a minor in possession of alcohol. Or school officials might hear, second-hand, that a student was seen with a controlled substance. A school official then might talk to the student, and the student then might admit using alcohol or drugs.
Both of these scenarios have played out in the past, Longanecker said. When those things have happened, the student is put on a "growth plan," he said. (See story, below.)
Steve Reaves, athletics director at PAISD, said he favors a drug-testing program if it is structured to successfully deter drug use.
Reaves said a good program would test at least half of the student population involved in extra-curricular activities in a random fashion with "multiple testing dates" so that students know they could be tested any day, which would be a strong deterrent.
"I believe that random drug testing can be a very positive response to peer pressure," Reaves said. "…I believe that this will give them one more excuse to use, to say no, when pressured by their friends."
The purpose of a drug-testing program should not be to "catch" students but to reduce drug use, Reaves said. A good program also would be "just one phase of a drug prevention program offered by the school district," he said.
The most important part of an antidrug program, Reaves said, would be the counseling offered to any student who tests positive.
Reaves said evidence that a drug testing program would be effective lies with a study in which 25 schools of varying sizes had drug testing of half of those eligible in the student populations for five years.
Three to 5 percent of students tested positive the first year, while 1 to 3 percent did the second and third year, and 1 percent or less the following years, Reaves said. Those numbers reflect a deterrence effect, he said.
Reaves said he found the study's details in an article on a Web site, studentdrugtesting. org, run by an organization called Student Drug Testing Coalition.
"I believe that we need to test our kids because drugs are a very real part of our society today," Reaves said. "I don't care where you live, your race or your pocket book. The pressure of drug use is very real and is all around us. Any way that we can help deter our kids from drug use is well worth the money."