July 17, 2008

Schools Ponder Drug Testing

By Nick Gevock, The Montana Standard, Butte

Jul. 17--Butte school officials are considering drug testing for students in sports and other activities amid allegations that marijuana smoking is rampant.

John Ries, Butte High School dean of men, in a letter, has asked Superintendent Chuck Uggetti to consider a random testing policy to try to stop marijuana use that he said is at an âⓚÂӦ"all time high (no pun intended)âⓚÂӚ among athletes and other students involved in activities.

âⓚÂӦ"Being in the deanâⓚÂⓞ¢s office, we have come upon kids that have been using,âⓚÂӚ Ries said in a telephone interview. âⓚÂӦ"Most of them are telling us that itâⓚÂⓞ¢s a major problem in the school.âⓚÂӚ Anaconda is among the Montana schools that have instituted a testing program for student athletes. The school board there voted this spring in begin a program that will kick off this fall.

Ries said in his letter than a testing program in Butte should include all students in any extracurricular activity. That would take in kids in band, cheerleading and other activities, in addition to sports.

Under federal law, a school can test students in extracurricular activities because theyâⓚÂⓞ¢re choosing to participate, Ries said. A school cannot, however, test the general student body.

âⓚÂӦ"ItâⓚÂⓞ¢s not part of what the federal government would consider a free education plan, so because itâⓚÂⓞ¢s not part of a required subject, itâⓚÂⓞ¢s not part of something they have to take,âⓚÂӚ he said of activities. âⓚÂӦ"If theyâⓚÂⓞ¢re choosing to take it, we can set up a testing program.âⓚÂӚ Ries said if the use is as widespread as he believes, itâⓚÂⓞ¢s imperative that the district do something about it.

Uggetti said he would prefer a program that could test across the board, including teachers and staff. He added the legality of a program that could test everyone at the school needs to be studied.

âⓚÂӦ"It should be everyone,âⓚÂӚ he said. âⓚÂӦ"Those are things weâⓚÂⓞ¢ve got to sit down and talk about.âⓚÂӚ He plans to appoint a committee to study what other districts are doing with testing. He said the group will include teachers, coaches, board members and parents, and will look at the drug testing policies of other school districts throughout the state.

The details of a program would need to be worked out. Uggetti said a big question is how a student who tests positive would be dealt with âⓚÂ" through punishment or drug treatment.

And the school would have to find a way to pay for drug testing because itâⓚÂⓞ¢s expensive, he said.

Any program would not start until the 2009-2010 school year.

Reporter Nick Gevock may be reached at [email protected]


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