ROOSEVELT — A plan to begin random drug tests for students in Duchesne County who participate in athletics and other extracurricular activities has been put on hold while administrators try to iron out how to fund the program.
The Duchesne County Board of Education was expected to approve a new drug testing policy Thursday. However, when board members and some of the district's high school principals saw the price tag and questioned how the testing would be paid for, board President Kim Harding decided not to call for a vote.
Bruce Guymon, director of student services for the school district, presented the board with the price per test from five different vendors, which ranged from $14 to $6.
Guymon told the board that at $8 per test, the proposed program would cost the district roughly $6,444 annually under a hypothetical scenario where 25 percent of its high school students are tested.
But Russ Nielsen, the principal of Union High School, the district's largest school, said the cost will be much higher because roughly 700 of his 1,000 students participate in some kind of sport or activity.
"I don't see how I could afford that," Nielsen said.
And Guymon acknowledged that his estimate didn't factor in the staff time required to carry out the program.
"(The cost) could be significantly more than that," he said.
The proposed policy would require all students in grades 7 through 12 who are involved in athletics and extracurricular activities, like student government and drama, to consent to random drug testing. These students would have to take a baseline test at the beginning of each season, and then be subjected to random drug testing using a lottery system.
Students would be screened for the use of marijuana, cocaine, opiates, amphetamines, Ecstasy, PCP and tobacco. They could also be required to submit to a Breathalyzer test, if alcohol use is suspected.
"Breathalyzers may be used on buses, (in) hotel rooms or in any other area a student may be during a school-sponsored event," the draft policy states.
A first violation would lead to suspension from two consecutive extracurricular events. The second violation would mean suspension for the remainder of the activity's season or for six weeks, whichever is longer. A student who tests positive a third time would mean suspension from all extracurricular activities for the remainder of the school year.
Some board members appeared to favor having the principals at the district's four high schools fund the program out of their individual budgets, while others felt that the district should bear the expense.
"If we're going to do this, we have to fund it," said board member Greg Wheeler. "I don't think we can tell the principals, 'Take the budget you already have and figure out how to come up with another $5,000.' "
Nationally, drug and alcohol use among teens remains one of the top concerns for educators and parents.
In a 2010 study, the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences reported that random drug testing by schools has little impact on student behavior. Forty-seven percent of U.S. students report having used illegal drugs and 72 percent said they'd used alcohol before graduating from high school, according to the study.
The study examined the effectiveness of random drug testing. It found that 17 percent of students who attend schools with random testing had used drugs or alcohol within the past 30 days. At schools without random testing, that number was 22 percent.
And, 34 percent of students attending schools where random testing is in place said they would likely use drugs or alcohol in the next year, compared to 33 percent of students at schools without testing, the study found.
In Utah, 18 of the 41 public school districts and four of the 49 charter schools have some type of drug testing program for students, according to information provided to the Utah State Office of Education at the end of the 2010-11 academic year.
Those districts include Box Elder, Cache, Murray, Ogden, Rich, Uintah and Weber, the state office said.
The Granite School District discontinued its random testing policy this year because the federal grant that funded the program expired, said spokesman Ben Horsley.
"We've had to cut $53 million in programs over the past three years," Horsley said, adding that randomly screening students for drugs "wasn't a high enough priority" to justify funding.
If the district were to reinstate the program using its own money, Horsley said, it would likely include testing for performance enhancing drugs, in addition to drugs like marijuana, methamphetamines and cocaine.
"I think we'd be looking for something a little more comprehensive," he said.
The Murray City School District screens student-athletes for illegal street drugs as well as steroids, said district spokeswoman D. Wright.
Seven student-athletes are randomly selected for testing each month, Wright said. Five take a "five-panel test," which screens for use of amphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, opiates and PCP. The other two are tested for steroids.
Each five-panel test costs the district $25 and each steroid test costs $100, Wright said. The total cost of the program runs between $5,000 and $6,000 each year.
The Duchesne district considered testing for steroids, Guymon said, but ultimately discarded the idea.
"That's extremely cost prohibitive," he said, "and, honestly, I'm not aware of any concerns that have come up with performance enhancers."
The primary purpose of the proposed program is to ensure that students participating in sports and extracurricular activities are safe, Guymon said.
"If kids know, 'Hey, there's a chance that I'm going to be tested and I want to participate,' hopefully that'll give them a little more motivation to stay clean," he said.
The Duchesne County School Board is expected to revisit the proposed policy when it meets next on April 12.
Are random drug tests at schools effective?
47 percent of students reported having ever used illicit drugs before leaving high school
72 percent of students reported having ever used alcohol before leaving high school
17 percent of students who were randomly screened said they used drugs in the past 30 days
22 percent of students who were not randomly screened said they used drugs in the past 30 days
34 percent of students in schools with random testing said they would likely us drugs
alcohol in the next yearComment on this story
33 percent of students in schools without random testing said they would likely use drugs
alcohol in the next year
SOURCE: U.S. Dept. of Education, Institute of Education Sciences "The Effectiveness of Mandatory Random Student Drug Testing," 2010