Upon the agenda items given to the Collier County School Board, a belief often is printed. Belief Number One reads, “Students are our number one priority and their needs are the focus of all district decisions.”
That’s exactly what it should read and exactly what should be the school district’s top priority. And the district obviously had that in mind when it recommended random drug testing of Collier County student-athletes. The school board will discuss and likely vote on this item in today’s meeting.
The needs of the students, in the district’s mind, were top on the list. Problem is, it’s only a certain percentage of the students.
It’s not surprising the district created this option after reading a few eye-popping statistics — a survey of students in grades 6 through 12 showed nearly two-thirds of Collier students have used illegal substances in their lives and nearly one-third of them have done so in the last month.
But the test is not for all students. It’s for student-athletes.
If the testing included all students in extracurricular activities, it would be more palatable. What makes the quarterback different from the trombone player? Or the softball pitcher different from the actor? Or the cheerleader different from the Key Club member? Why were athletes the group singled out?
“I think it’s because athletes have the most to lose,” school board member Dick Bruce said. “And (the testing) may keep someone from doing (drugs).”
And before someone says “steroids,” they weren’t on the top of the list of substances abused. Alcohol, tobacco and marijuana were.
The concern should be with drugs like alcohol and opiates, not performance enhancers, so if the district wants to test, it should widen the pool of potential subjects. Yet even that has its issues.
Say the district decides to test all those in extracurricular activities. So their focus will be on the type-A, socially active and usually more responsible students who juggle several clubs and perhaps the band or a sport or two.
Now, it would be naive to say none of those motivated students drink or take drugs, but they’re not the only ones I’m worried about. The clique of stoners hanging out in the stairwell snickering at grade-school-level weed jokes? I’m worried about them, too. But, if the policy is adopted today, they won’t get tested if they don’t play sports.
The school district can’t widen the pool to include all students. Current state case law won’t allow it and, if any district tried, it had better plan on using the money earmarked for that drug testing for some serious legal costs.
But athletes aren’t the only available demographic. Broaden the scope to anyone involved in a school club. Bruce has offered an excellent idea: Test students who drive to school. It includes a broader cross-section of students and could steer students away from using illicit substances, especially while driving.
“I drive past Gulf Coast High and I see the signs (in memory of those who died in car accidents),” Bruce said. “I don’t want so see any more signs at the schools or crosses on the sides of roads. It’s something I’ll definitely be bringing back up.”
Drug abuse is a serious concern for the school district and it has the survey numbers to back it up. Apparently, it feels increased education and a keener eye in spotting tell-tale signs of abuse aren’t enough. But the policy as it currently reads does not reach out to as many students as it could.
The district says the policy will be reviewed after the first year. It goes up for discussion today before it comes to a vote.
Why wait 12 months?
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E-mail staff writer Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org.