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Sandwich, Plano are among area schools taking stricter stands on drug, alcohol use

Sandwich High School is implementing new drug testing policy thif caught would suspend students from extra-curricular activities such as sports.

Sandwich High School is implementing a new drug testing policy that, if caught, would suspend students from extra-curricular activities such as sports. | Sun-Times Media File Photo

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School drug testing

Across the country, about 14 percent of all school districts with high schools conduct random drug testing, according to a study conducted in 2005 and published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Among those districts
that drug test students:

Almost all of the districts tested athletes.

About 65 percent randomly tested students in other extracurricular activities.

Slightly more than 28 percent randomly tested all students, despite a U.S. Supreme Court decision against random testing for students only involved in mandatory school activities.

The IHSA, which governs high school athletics, also requires random drug testing for its athletes. In the 2010-11 season, 747 of more than 30,000 high school student-athletes in Illinois were tested. Only four tests came back positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

— Jenette Sturges

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Updated: September 20, 2012 6:18AM

This school year, middle and high school students in Sandwich will have another test to take — and it has nothing to do with math, reading or science.

The Sandwich School District has followed in the footsteps of the neighboring Plano district and has added random drug testing to its code of conduct for middle and high school students, making the districts two of the strictest in the Fox Valley as the school year commences and school boards take another look at what they expect from athletes and student leaders.

Parents of students involved in any extra-curricular activity must consent to random drug screening. If they opt out, their children could lose privileges ranging from parking, to prom, sports, band and academic clubs.

Sandwich School Superintendent Rick Schmitt said that the new policy was carefully thought out by administrators, board members, parents and students. Six high school students and three middle school students will be selected for testing each month, he said. The cost to the district will be approximately $3,200 per year.

The selection process will be random, according to the policy. Students will be chosen for testing by contracted vendor Valley West Community Hospital, which will collect urine specimens at the schools.

Neither administrators nor students will be able to predict or affect the outcome of the sample selection, according to the new district policy.

‘Invasion of privacy’

Parents may chose to deny consent for testing, but doing so will bar their children from participating in any school-sponsored activity.

One Sandwich mother, who asked that her last name not be used, came close to choosing this option. With two children in middle school involved and sports and band, Susan said she was so upset about the new rule that she refused to sign the forms, opting to let dad take over that duty.

“I’ve had my blood pressure rise more than once when discussing this,” she said Thursday after soccer practice. “They are taking the parenting role away, and I don’t agree with that... I’m not OK with it, but I don’t have a choice.”

Her 12-year-old son agrees. Susan said he was in tears over the decision.

“It’s an invasion of my privacy,” he said. “But, if I didn’t, I couldn’t play sports or do the things I wanted to do. It would be sad.”

Failure of a student to fully cooperate with the testing will hold the same consequences as a positive drug test result.

Parents with children who do not participate in any extra-curricular activities may voluntarily enroll their student in the screening program, and while students who test positive won’t be punished — except for athletes — they will be offered drug counseling.

In Plano, which started testing in 2009, the entire student body has complied with the new policy. Since the policy rolled out, only a handful students have tested positive for drugs, school officials said. All but one of those students have opted for intervention programs.

It was a struggle at first to get everyone on board with the drug testing policy, but that has changed.

“It’s not even an issue now,” one administrator said.

Losing playing time

Athletes who test positive will lose two-thirds of their season on a first offense. If they opt to participate in an intervention program, that penalty could be reduced to a minimum of 20 percent of their season lost.

With a second positive test, athletes are out for the remainder of the season, plus two-thirds of the next season.

A third positive test will result in suspension of all athletic and extra-curricular activities for the duration of the middle or high school career.

Suspensions aren’t just limited to positive drug screening results. Anything from rude behavior, to tobacco and alcohol use will result in code infractions, and carry their own consequences.

The district does, however, differentiate between the severity of offences. They separate offenses into level A, B and C infractions. Level A infractions include unacceptable behavior, level B infractions include tobacco use, and level C infractions include criminal acts, possession, transportation or use of drugs and alcohol, or a positive drug test.

Party time

While some school districts are cracking down on drug and alcohol use for students in sports and clubs, one is easing up this year.

On Tuesday, the Oswego School Board voted for a revised code of conduct that punishes students for drinking and drug use, and for hosting parties where drug use and underage drinking are permitted.

What it doesn’t prohibit, however, is sober partying alongside inebriated friends.

“If a kid goes to a party and is drinking and using drugs, they should be punished,” said Oswego board member Brent Lightfoot. “If they are going to a party, and they’re not using, they shouldn’t be punished.”

The new policy, which goes into effect with the start of the school year, replaces previous rules that prohibit attending any parties where underage drinking and drug use are taking place.

The new policy was drawn up over the course of the summer, after some parents complained to the School Board last spring that students were being unfairly punished and were asked to turn in other students present at a party for a reduced punishment.

The more lenient policy seemed to go over well with both students and their parents as they stood in line waiting to register at Oswego High School on Thursday.

“I think that’s fair enough,” said Nancy Clifton, who was registering her junior son. “Kids should be able to have fun and to be responsible for their own actions.”

Mother Christine Nelson said the new policy made sense, because it eliminates finger-pointing.

“I would like to know how they’re going to prove one way or another which kids are participating in illegal activities,” Nelson said. “There’s so many ifs, ands and buts.”

Students were also resoundingly in favor of the policy, which they said means they’ll be able to make good choices even if their friends are not, and still have fun.

“Sounds good,” said Willie Rodriguez, who was gearing up for freshman football practice. “Then I’m not getting in trouble for things that are other people’s responsibility.”

Teammates nodded in agreement.

Another student, junior Rachel Fischer, called the policy change a “good idea,” and said that the previous no-parties policy is the reason she’s no longer participating in sports at the school, after a party she was at caused a rift with her coaches.

‘In the presence’

Some Oswego School Board members, however, were less than enthusiastic about students attending parties with drugs and alcohol present. The new policy passed 4-3.

“This is the part where we all vote and say there are no consequences for being at a party where there is illegal drinking and drugs,” said board member Mike Scaramuzzi. “With this, we’re going to become the only school district in the area that doesn’t address ‘in the presence of.’”

That’s not exactly true.

Many Fox Valley school districts do consider attending parties with drugs and alcohol present to be the same as using substances. Yorkville High School punishes “group possession” of drugs and alcohol, and Indian Prairie and West Aurora prohibit attendance at parties where drugs and alcohol are present.

Kaneland requires that students are responsible for knowing whether or not they’re in the presence of alcohol and prohibits attendance at such parties, but leaves room for students to take “immediate steps to leave the activity safely,” when they discover drugs or alcohol are present.

But plenty of other athletic codes don’t contain “in the presence of” clauses.

That includes East Aurora, both St. Charles high schools and Batavia.

“We don’t look at (the new drug testing policy) in terms of punitive, we look at it in terms of intervention,” Schmitt, the Sandwich superintendent, said. “The students in our planning committee said this is just another reason not to become involved in substance abuse.”

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