By Margie Wuebker
MARIA STEIN -- Marion Local Schools is the first in the area to have a drug testing policy for students involved in extracurricular activities.
Board of education members unanimously approved implementation of the policy during a Monday night meeting.
The policy, which has been under discussion since August, goes into effect next school year. It applies to all athletes, cheerleaders, marching and concert band members and athletic trainers in grades 7-12.
Initially, the policy was focused on just athletes. But the decision to broaden that focus reflects the strong commitment by the board and the community to establish truly drug- and alcohol-free extracurricular programs, according to Superintendent Andrew Smith.
"Most of the comments I have received thus far are overwhelmingly positive," Smith told The Daily Standard. The comments come from adults as well as students, he said.
"I have talked with the Student Advisory Council, which represents a cross section of the student body, and asked them about the number one problem facing young people today," Smith said. "Their response was alcohol and drug abuse."
Although board members said they did not actually see drugs change hands on school property, many expressed concern about fellow students putting themselves in harm's way by making wrong choices.
Parents and students will be required to sign an informed consent agreement recognizing that participation in extracurricular activities is a privilege that may be withdrawn as a result of alcohol and/or drug offenses. Those refusing to sign the agreement will not be allowed to participate.
Great Lakes Biomedical, which will handle the drug testing, currently oversees testing in 11 school districts with another five to eight seriously considering similar programs.
The board has not yet decided how often the random urine testing will be given, but the policy says it could be weekly. They also have not decided exactly how many will be tested, but said up to 20 percent of participants of an activity could be tested at a time. Because test selection is random, students could be tested more than once.
Former St. Marys resident Kyle Prueter, who heads Great Lakes Biomedical, mentioned that some schools test all extracurricular participants at the start of a given season while others go with randomly testing a certain percentage prior to the season and weekly thereafter throughout the course of the season.
Great Lakes offers a two-panel test that checks for two designated drugs at a cost of $11. The cost of a more comprehensive eight-panel test is $19.
The board has yet to address the issue of who will pay for the testing. Smith expects the action to come in April when the board typically takes action on a variety of school fees.
The most common drugs targeted during testing include cocaine, opiates, marijuana, Ecstacy, amphetamines, methamphetamines, PCP and methadone. Steroid testing tends to be cost prohibitive.
Positive results are verified at a certified laboratory by a certified medical review officer before a designated school official is notified of a problem. Parents also receive notification, but the confidential information is not shared with law enforcement officials. Counseling could be initiated at that point with any additional sanctions coming in accordance with stated policy.
Sanctions for those testing positive for drug or alcohol use coincide with the existing Athletic Code of Conduct. Disciplinary action ranges from sitting out a prescribed number of events to suspension for the remainder of the season depending on the number of violations.
A designated school representative will be assigned to keep the confidential testing records. Smith said such documents would be destroyed upon graduation or in the event the student leaves the district.