Local school officials have mixed feelings about drug testing, but of the schools that do test students in extracurricular activities or those with parking permits, the recurrent theme is that it gives students another reason to say no to drugs.
The Illinois State High School Association discontinued performance enhancing drug testing of athletes in June when its board did not appropriate any funding for it.
“The program was enacted as a deterrent for performance-enhancing drug use,” said IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson in a press release, “and we felt like it was a success in that regard, while also resulting in three positive tests through five years of testing. We are confident that the national attention on this subject in recent years has helped to better educate and increase awareness for student-athletes, coaches and parents.
“In addition, we believe that the influx of testing by our schools for various substances has also acted as a deterrent in student-athletes taking illegal and potentially harmful substances. Overall, we feel like the program was a success and are pleased to know that we can quickly and efficiently re-implement it, should our member schools ever direct our board to do so.”
Pekin District 303
Pekin Community High School does not drug test students.
“The only students, at one point, who were drug tested were (Illinois High School Association) student-athletes who made a state series and were randomly selected by IHSA to be tested,” said Superintendent Danielle Owens. “This happened several years ago and has since been discontinued.
“The expense to the (drug testing) program never seemed worth it for athletes as we have not seen a reason that warranted considering it. And, in terms of school wide testing, there has not been any discussions at all. It would, of course, for a school of our size be a tremendous expense as well as more time taken away from the educational components of what we are trying to accomplish every day here.”
Morton District 709
Morton Community Unit District 709 Superintendent Jeff Hill said his district started random drug testing in the 2008-2009 school year for those in extracurricular activities or those who have a parking permit.
The district tests the urine of students, approximately 10 students per week at a cost of $7.92 per test. A health care agency sends a nurse to the school to test the students. The district does not test junior high students. If a student tests positive, the student would lose eligibility to attend 25 percent of their extracurricular activities, and with a second offence, 50 percent and so on. Parents are notified of a positive test. The district offers counseling for the student.
Hill believes in the benefits of testing. The district does not disclose what drugs it tests for; that way students don’t use the reasoning that they can use something that is not on the test list.
“I think the reasons the district went into a policy like this is really two-fold,” said Hill. “One is it gives another opportunity to say no if they are in a difficult situation — if they’re at a party and they’re getting offered drugs or alcohol.
“Second, it also helps us identify a student who may have an issue. It’s then easier to develop resources to help address that issue.”
Hill said parents seem supportive of the testing.
East Peoria District 309
The district started drug testing students involved in any extracurricular activity in 2005.
The district draws random numbers out of the pool of extracurricular students and does urine tests. When the district first started the testing, it tested 10 students a month. They now test 20 students per month. Approximately 50 percent of the student body are in the pool. They are tested for a “plethora” of substances said Superintendent Marjorie Greuter.
Greuter said many students are not tested because they are not in extracurricular programs.
“When the Supreme Court ruled on the ability of schools to drug test, they were very specific that it could not be just any students, it was only those students who choose to take part in something above and beyond just coming to class everyday,” said Greuter. “So yes, every school has students that put in their time in class ... that are not in the pool.”
“I know there are a lot of different reasons that students are not involved.”
Drug testing is controversial and considered an invasion of privacy, said Greuter.
“And I understand parents concerns with that,” she said. “The reason I like it is because I feel like — and I look at it from a parent perspective — I feel like if my daughter or son were in a situation where those around them were making some poor choices and maybe their friend’s not an athlete or whatever, I feel like knowing being drug tested is a possibility gives them another reason to say no — just knowing there’s some external accountability for their actions is a good thing. I think that alone, if we can help one kid, it’s worth it. And I think more than one has used it not to make a poor choice.”
Washington District 308
The district tests students in extracurricular activities, which this fall includes over 600 students. The district has 1,370 students. The testing started in the 2012-13 school year.
A test that includes steroids and various drugs costs the district $225. The cost for a drug test only is $125. The total cost last year, according to Athletic Director Herb Knoblauch, was $12,000.
The punishment for a first positive test is graduated and begins with removal from the activity for one-third of the season and can lead to removal for the entire season.
Superintendent Kyle Freemen said the policy is beneficial.
“It gives the kids an opportunity to opt out of some of the activities some of the other students may participate in and don’t have anything to lose,” said Freeman. “They can say they can’t because of random testing.
“We do have kids that have had problems in the past, but they’ve been able to say no. I think it has benefitted our population to some degree. It’s one of those things that you can’t put statistics on because it’s not like we can say, ‘Oh, this person did not participate in anything tied to drugs or alcohol because of the random testing. How would you get those statistics? Just based on feedback from individual students over time, I think it’s been a good thing.”
East Peoria District 86
East Peoria Elementary School District 86 Superintendent Tony Ingold said his district does not test students at Central Junior High School. It was discussed in the past few years after receiving an Illinois Association of School Boards list of policy updates.
The district’s policy committee discussed it but made no recommendation to the board.
“I know cost was a consideration, the lack of frequency of drug related offenses, oversight of the testing process, discipline for a positive test, etc.,” said Ingold. “At this time there are no plans to bring forward a recommendation.”
Ingold said drug testing younger students is more concerning than older students.
“I certainly understand the value of drug testing, especially if there are repeated violation or offenses,” said Ingold. “At the same time, there are always concerns about privacy and test administration (and) validity, which I think increases when dealing with elementary students.
“I believe districts need to look at their particular circumstances and determine the necessity of implementing such testing. I think the questions of how to choose students randomly, personnel responsible for administration of the test, actions resulting from a positive test and the involvement of law enforcement and/or counseling services should all be clearly addressed prior to any action by a board or district administration. ... I also think the need and cause for the implementation of such action should be clearly communicated to students and parents.”
Follow Sharon Woods Harris at Twitter.com/sharrispekin