Drug testing may become the trend of the year in Spokane public schools now that hospitals have agreed to pump $200,000 into a testing program.
Superintendent Gary Livingston is backing the voluntary program, which could lead to thousands of students randomly being tested for cocaine, methamphetamines and other illegal drugs.
“I think it can dissuade young people from experimenting,” Livingston said. “We’ve just got to start all the programs we can.”
The Greater Spokane Substance Abuse Council, which is coordinating the Washington Drug-Free Youth Program, estimates 5,000 students will participate within two years.
School officials say they expect student sports teams might step forward for testing now that someone is offering to foot the bill.
Lewis and Clark football players became the district’s first team to undergo drug testing this fall after Deaconess Medical Center began paying for the testing under a separate program.
“Drug testing is controversial, so a lot of people wanted to keep their distance and see someone else do it first,” said Mike Forness, who manages Deaconess’ drug treatment program.
“Schools appeared to be interested but wanted someone else to take the first step.”
Mead Junior High School may also encourage its students to participate, spurred by teenagers who say the school’s “honor system” anti-drug program is failing.
“You’d have kids who’d sign the pledge and go out right after school and break the pledge - drinking, or even worse, marijuana,” said Brian Perks, 15, who graduated from the school last year.
“It didn’t mean anything to anybody.”
Tests would reduce cheating, Perks said. “There’s no way to fudge it. Nobody can hide.”
Under the Washington Drug-Free Youth Program, students must join in clubs, teams or other groups. Testing is random, voluntary and requires parents’ permission.
Those who test clean will receive membership cards they can use to get discounts from participating stores, restaurants and other businesses.
A student who later fails a urinalysis will lose his or her membership and discount card.
A counselor at the school will notify the student and parents, but the information would be kept confidential, Forness said.
School officials shouldn’t discipline students who test positive for drugs, Forness said. “That’s not the way it’s intended. We’d advocate pretty strongly that not be included in any formal school disciplinary procedures.”
Livingston is scheduled to present the program to middle school and high school principals on Oct. 10.
“We’re very interested, but it’s subject to the principals’ review and approval,” said Mary Brown, student services supervisor. “Even then, it might be a school-by-school type of thing.”
Linda Thompson, executive director of the Greater Spokane Substance Abuse Council, said the program will be successful only if it’s driven by enthusiastic students.
“I want to be sure the clubs come from the kids,” she said. “We don’t want to have this be where administrators say, ‘Put this in your school.”’
Thompson expects to have some District 81 students enrolled within a month. She said East Valley schools are interested in the program, but the Central and West Valley school districts aren’t participating.
Some 250 students from schools outside District 81 - including Nine Mile Falls and Reardan - signed onto the program last spring and fall.
Hospitals paying for tests, which cost about $10 each, are Deaconess, Sacred Heart Medical Center, Valley Hospital and Medical Center and Holy Family Hospital.
At Lewis and Clark, all but one of 37 football players signed up for the voluntary testing program that started three weeks ago. That student’s parents objected “for civil libertarian reasons,” said Assistant Principal Allan Bredy.
So far, the nine players tested have been drug-free, Bredy said.
Varsity players requested the program to dispel rumors about drug use on the team.
Bredy said more District 81 sports teams may opt for testing now that schools won’t have to pay for the tests.
“I’ve had a lot of interest, a lot of calls on this issue,” he said. “Right now my feeling is it’s pretty positive, helping hold students accountable.”