Granite School District has taken an important step to help curb drug and alcohol use among its high school students. Beginning in the spring of 2008, Granite District athletes will be subject to random drug and alcohol tests.

This is not a "gotcha" campaign. Rather, school district officials hope the program will give student-athletes a reason to say "no" to using drugs and alcohol. The overarching goal is prevention. Administrators hope that the positive behavior of athletes, many of whom are considered role models on their respective campuses, will encourage other students to shun drugs and alcohol, too.

Other school districts have conducted drug and alcohol screens for a number of years. But Granite District had held off implementing such a program due to cost and concerns about the invasiveness of urine tests. Both of these issues have been resolved, thanks to a three-year federal grant to fund the testing and education program and the development of tests that use saliva to detect drug and alcohol use. Now, district administrators need to develop processes that ensure the testing is, indeed, random and the athletes' privacy is protected.

Unfortunately, the new testing program will not screen athletes for steroid use, which is a growing problem among high school athletes nationwide. Tests to detect steroid use are highly expensive and are not covered by the grant. However, the school district's new program, dubbed GUARD for Granite Upholding Athletes in Resisting Drinking, also includes a health curriculum for high school sophomores, designed to give students the tools to say no to illegal substances.

One of the strongest supporters of the program is the father of a former Skyline High School football player who earlier this year killed a pregnant mother and two children in a drunken-driving accident.

In a poignant letter to the school board, the father wrote, "We have the responsibility as parents and as a community to take control when a problem exists — and a problem most certainly exists."

He's right. Drug and alcohol use are a reality in Utah high schools. For adults to turn a blind eye to this activity is irresponsible. Credit the Granite Board of Education, and the Murray Board of Education before it, for taking pro-active approaches to keep students off illegal substances.