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Random drug testing gets preliminary nod from Davis School Board

Published: Tuesday, March 19 2013 9:00 p.m. MDT

Assistant coach Cam Winquist talks with Mitch Parkinson as Davis High School's boys soccer team warms up before playing Brighton on Tuesday, March 19, 2013, in Kaysville. The Davis Board of Education has given preliminary approval to a new policy requiring random drug testing of student athletes, cheerleaders and student government officers.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

FARMINGTON — Student athletes, cheerleaders and student government officers in Davis County may be subject to random drug testing next year if a new policy is adopted by the school board.

The Davis Board of Education gave preliminary approval to the policy Tuesday, though two of the seven members cast votes in opposition.

Under the terms of the policy, each high school in Davis School District would randomly test up to five students each week for illegal or otherwise prohibited substances. A positive test would result in a student sitting out games or other extracurricular activities, but would not result in criminal action or punitive measures such as expulsion.

John Robison, the district's healthy lifestyles supervisor and a member of the community committee that prepared the policy, said school administrators and parents had come forward requesting a random drug testing policy.

Robison said the policy is intended as a preventative measure to hopefully dissuade teens from using drugs and to provide them with help if they do.

"We have had a significant number of parents who have come and said that they wish that their kid had been in a school where they had random drug testing," he said.

Robison also said that after the policy was made available on the Davis School District website, 34 individuals submitted comments, with 29 speaking in support and five speaking against all or part of the policy.

Board member Peter Cannon spoke in favor of the policy, saying even though it could be interpreted by some members of the community as government intrusion, the health and safety of children warrants a higher degree of consideration.

"The effect of drug use on them is more pronounced and more deleterious, I think, than it might be for adults," Cannon said. "If there’s a way that we can help them to recognize that effect, we should take that action."

Opposing the policy were board members David Lavato and Larry Smith. Lavato said the policy was a redundant addition to both state law and current policy prohibiting the use of illegal substances. He also objected to the preparation committee not including any members of the minority community, who he argued encounter drug and alcohol use at a higher rate than their Caucasian peers.

"There are great drug and alcohol problems, but we’re not inviting those people to participate in the conversation," Lavato said. "They were just totally ignored."

Smith worried about the potential unintended consequences of the policy, such as driving students to use stronger drugs that persist in the body for a shorter time period.

Robison said it was difficult to speculate how individual students would react to the policy, but the school board would be free to modify, expand or end the policy if it proved unsuccessful.

"It’s difficult for us to really know whether or not that would indeed happen," he said. "I do believe that what we need to do is based on what we do know, and we do know that this has had some positive effects in those districts that have it."

Murray School District has had a random drug testing policy in place since 1996, according to district spokeswoman D. Wright, though that policy includes only athletes and cheerleaders and does not extend to student government officers. Wright said she was not aware of pushback or criticism of the policy by the community.

"We feel that it has a purpose and a value," she said. "I feel we have community support or we would certainly be re-evaluating."

Granite also ran a random drug testing pilot program under a grant, which ended last year.

On Tuesday, parents and students at a track meet at Davis High School reacted generally in favor to the proposed policy.

Mark Langston, of Kaysville, said the policy is a great idea that would promote fair competition. He said it's likely students would find a way around it, but it would still serve as a learning opportunity about the dangers of drug use.

"It will help teach kids the importance of staying drug free early on," he said. "It's a mentality thing."

Veronica Wuthrich, a high school student who lives in West Bountiful, was also supportive of a random testing policy.

"I think it would be effective," she said. "It would get a lot of people to stop."

Wendy Toole, a mother who lives in Farmington, said she's never been particularly concerned about drug use at her children's schools, but wasn't opposed to random testing either.

"I didn't think there was a problem," she said. "If it is, then sure, we should take precautions."

The proposed policy, which was approved by the board on first reading, will be considered again prior to final passage.

Contributing: Rachel Lowry

E-mail: benwood@deseretnews.com

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