Leila Navidi / FILE
Friday, March 6, 2009 | 2 a.m.
- Green Valley High staff lauds benefits of drug-testing program (12-23-2008)
- Seven high schools could start drug tests (5-6-2008)
- Letter to the Editor: All students should be tested for drugs (2-14-2008)
- Drug testing students might spread beyond Green Valley (2-12-2008)
- So far, all drug tests negative (2-6-2008)
Green Valley High School administrators say the success of their year-old random drug testing program can be seen in the lower numbers of drug users they are catching.
But Taylor Ashton, a sophomore at the Henderson campus, said he has seen the changes in a more direct way — in the school’s “bathrooms and hallways.” A year ago, he explained, it wasn’t unusual to walk into a campus bathroom and smell smoke. He said he couldn’t be more specific about the type of smoke.
These days, even the talk about drugs — on campus, at the bus stop and at parties of Green Valley students — is down, he said.
Green Valley students appear to be trying hard to avoid failing a test that an increasing number of Clark County schools are adding to their curriculums. Next month, seven additional Clark County high schools will begin randomly testing students for drugs.
In February 2008, Green Valley became the first public high school in Nevada to randomly test students for drug use. One of the reasons, Green Valley Principal Jeff Horn said, was that during the 2006-07 academic year, the school caught nearly 8 percent of its athletes using drugs or alcohol, more than twice the rate for the rest of the school’s student population.
This academic year, just two student-athletes have been referred to the dean’s office for offenses involving controlled substances, said Jackie Carducci, assistant principal for athletics and activities. That equates to less than a half-percent of the school’s student-athletes. Horn said the two were playing hooky when they were caught by Clark County School District Police and brought back to campus, where it was determined that they had been smoking marijuana.
The number of students who are flunking urinalysis is also down.
Through the end of the academic year in June 2008, seven of the 264 Green Valley athletes tested positive. From the start of the 2008-09 academic year through January, Green Valley tested 263 students with only four positive results. None of those were student-athletes.
This year’s testing pool has been expanded to include students who participate in extracurricular activities that require travel, such as forensics and musical groups.
The U.S. Supreme Court has deemed random drug testing of students participating in sports or other school activities constitutional, but public schools cannot require testing of all students. At Green Valley, parents can opt to have their children added to the pool and more than 100 have, the principal said.
“Our community is behind us,” he said. “I would say things are going extremely well.”
In September, Coronado and Silverado high schools followed Green Valley’s lead. Since then, Coronado has tested 224 students and five student-athletes flunked the tests.
Silverado has checked 100 student-athletes and five didn’t pass. The school is testing only student-athletes — a pool of about 500 — because that’s all it can afford.
And because it doesn’t have any external funding, Silverado’s program has an uncertain future, Principal Kim Grytdahl said. To cover the cost this year, he boosted the fee for athletic registration to $20 from $5.
“With the way school budgets are right now, I don’t know that we can fund the program at the level that it needs to be, so that it does what it’s supposed to do,” Grytdahl said. “Given the economic climate, I don’t think it’s fair to pass any more of the price along to the children.”
At Green Valley, the program is covered by private grants and donations, enough to keep it going at least through 2010, Horn said.
A three-year, $450,000 federal grant is paying for the random drug testing that is to begin next month at Centennial, Del Sol, Desert Pines, Durango, Eldorado, Foothill and Mojave high schools. But whether additional federal money will be available to allow more high schools to start drug testing is unknown.
The Bush administration made random student drug testing a priority; opponents of such programs hope that “with a new administration that values evidence-based outcomes, ... money will no longer be diverted from student-based programs to random drug testing,” said Jennifer Kern, youth policy manager of the Drug Policy Alliance, a national advocacy group.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Education Department said Tuesday that the new administration has not yet taken up the question of random student drug testing.
Proponents say random testing serves as a deterrent, helps schools identify students who need help and gives those students an excuse to say no to offers of drugs or alcohol, while opponents contend the at-risk students who often benefit the most from involvement in school activities and sports drop out rather than risk being tested.
Administrators at Green Valley, Coronado and Silverado all said, however, that student participation in sports or extracurricular activities has not declined since the random testing programs began. In fact, participation is up at Coronado, Principal Lee Koelliker said.
The testing will continue at Coronado next year, he said.
“Our athletes as well as their parents understand that there is a drug problem in our schools, not only in the CCSD but throughout the country, and appreciate the fact that we are taking a stance to try and combat the use of these substances,” Koelliker said.
‘False sense of security’
Kern contends, however, that random testing gives parents a false sense of security that if there’s a drug problem at a school or with their child, campus administrators will catch it.
“The prevention research out there shows what really works is helping students feel connected to school and getting them to believe there is an adult who cares about them,” she said. “With random testing, you’re treating students like they’re guilty until proven innocent.”
In addition to questions about the long-term efficacy of random testing, organizations such as the ACLU say the program raises serious concerns about privacy rights, and can serve only to diminish trust among students and school staff.
Leah Yaffe, a senior and president of Green Valley’s forensics team, said she doesn’t find the random drug testing policy intrusive. “I don’t see it as administrators trying to find out who the bad kids are,” she said. “It’s trying to find out who might have a problem.”
The program might be less of a deterrent to students who are regular drug users, especially those whose social group revolves around the behavior, Yaffe said. But for a student who might be considering experimenting, she said, the specter of the test offers “a viable excuse” for turning down an offer of drugs or alcohol — a way to deflate peer pressure without losing face.
Green Valley junior Asli Kupoglu, a starter on the varsity girls soccer team, had to pass the test twice in three weeks, and it was inconvenient and a little embarrassing. Still, Kupoglu said she fully supports random drug testing for students who represent Green Valley in extracurricular activities. The possibility of being called for a drug test has made some students rethink some of their choices, she said.
Kupoglu also said she would support expanding the testing pool to include all extracurricular activities, and not just the ones that involve travel. She pointed out that the Student Council members who weren’t in the testing pool voted to voluntarily add their names, to set an example.
“I was really proud of them for doing that,” Kupoglu said.
How the testing works
Green Valley, Coronado and Silverado high schools are all using Sport Safe, an Ohio-based vendor, for testing services.
Green Valley and Coronado require students who participate in athletics or extracurricular activities that require travel — music and vocal groups, forensics teams — to be part of the testing pool. Both schools also allow parents of students who don’t fall into those categories to sign their teens up for the program. Silverado currently tests only student athletes.
Sport Safe chooses the names of students to be tested at random, and provides the list to the school. Those students are escorted by a staff member from class to the nurse’s office, where they must provide a urine sample. Refusal to give a sample is considered a positive test.
The test covers a range of substances, including alcohol, nicotine, anabolic steroids, amphetamines, marijuana and cocaine. Nicotine is included on the list because the use of tobacco products is a violation of Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association regulations, even if the student is of legal age.
The sample is processed at a local lab, and the results go to Sport Safe. If a test is positive, Sport Safe notifies parents within 24 hours. The school’s principal is also notified.
Students who test positive for any banned substance are required to undergo drug counseling, and are restricted from participating in school activities, in keeping with the guidelines of NIAA. Students who test positive a second time are not allowed to participate in interscholastic competition for a minimum of six weeks and cannot practice with their teams or participate in offseason activities. Students who have a third positive drug test are ruled ineligible for interscholastic competition for the remainder of their high school careers in Nevada.
Students who test positive must also submit to five follow-up tests over the course of the academic year, and the school can charge them $35 per test.
Three schools' results
Green Valley High School is in its second year of a random drug testing program for students. Coronado and Silverado high schools followed suit in September. Students who participate in extracurricular activities that require travel — sports, music and forensics — are required to be part of the testing pool.
Green Valley High School
Student-athletes tested January through June 2008*:
• Total tested: 264
• Students testing positive: 7
• Positive tests: marijuana (4), alcohol (1), opiates (1), refusal to test** (1)
Students tested since September:
• Total tested: 263
• Opted in at parents’ request: 151
• Students testing positive: 4
• Student-athletes testing positive: 0
• Positive tests: marijuana (3), marijuana and alcohol (1)
Coronado High School
Students tested since September:
• Total tested: 224
• Opted in at parents’ request: 5
• Students testing positive: 5
• Student-athletes testing positive: 5
• Positive tests: marijuana (2), oxycodone (1), marijuana and alcohol (1), opiates and oxycodone (1).
Silverado High School
Students tested since September:
• Total tested: 100
• Opted in at parents’ request: 4
• Students testing positive: 5
• Positive tests by student-athletes: 4
• Positive tests: marijuana (4),
* Green Valley’s first testing pool was limited to student-athletes.
** Students who refuse to provide a sample are considered a “positive” test.
Sources: Green Valley, Coronado and Silverado high schools.