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Muskego school officials consider drug testing of students

May 22, 2014

Muskego —A decision on whether Muskego High School will do random drug testing inched forward last week as the Muskego-Norway School Board approved a parent survey. Several of its questions also were cleared up with addition research into the issue.

The board could consider the first of three readings of a drug testing proposal as early as Monday, June 2, depending partly on the parent survey results. Final approval could come in July. Testing could be in place by fall.

The board is considering random testing of students in athletics, clubs and other after school activities. Testing might also include students with school parking privileges.

Testing would be done by an outside agency and if students test positive their parents would be notified but not the police. A $10 fee is proposed to be added to the normal student fees for athletics and co-curriculars to pay for the testing program.

Part of the survey asks parents their reaction to the $10 drug testing fee. Other questions include whether parents object to the proposed drug testing, if their children participate in sports or clubs and if they would stop participating because of random drug testing and whether they think testing would reduce drug use.

Board members stressed that parent input is essential.

"With this sensitive of a topic, you can only benefit by giving parents and students a say," said board member Dean Strom.

In fact, several parents spoke both for and against drug testing at a recent school board meeting. The main concern of those against was that the school's policy of suspending students temporarily from a sport or club if they are found using alcohol or drugs might cut them off from the only social bonds that could help them stay away from drugs. Some also saw screening as hand-in-hand with punishment.

The drug testing proposal comes in the wake of parents, alarmed by heroin use in the Muskego schools and elsewhere, who have been pushing for the schools and the community to do more to fight drug abuse, especially heroin.

School Board President Rick Petfalski said he favors random drug testing for five reasons. Probably first and foremost he said, it gives students a reason to resist drugs that peers press on them. Other reasons are that it might deter students from experimenting with drugs; it would be a clear demonstration that the schools don't tolerate drugs or alcohol; that it would be a family process, not involving police; and that the $10 additional fee would be relatively inexpensive for parents to bear, Petfalski said.

Board member Brett Hyde added: "Getting kids the help they need is the main thing."

Often parents don't know their children are into drugs or alcohol and the testing would be an early warning, Petfalski agreed.

In this area, Pewaukee and Arrowhead high schools have done random drug testing of athletes and students in co-curricular activities for years.

Looking at studies nationwide, results of drug testing have been mixed as far as reducing the number of students caught using alcohol or drugs, said Ted Gennerman, director of assessment and student services. But the studies did note that attendance rose and the number of expulsions went down, he said.

"It does provide students a plausible excuse," for resisting drugs, Gennerman said. "They can say, 'No, I'm not interested'."

And it helps start dialogs between parents and students about drugs, he said.

"No schools reported a reduction in students willing to participate in extra-curriculars," Gennerman said, a concern of some board members. Another concern was that testing would harm the relationship between students and teachers, but there is no evidence of that, either, he said.

About 750 Muskego High School students would be eligible for testing.

While testing positive would not involve penalties from police, it would bring school penalties. Students are suspended from their sport or co-curricular for 33 percent of the season or activity for the first offense.

A soccer player, for example, would miss eight games. A student in a year-round activity such as student council would miss five weeks. The suspensions are longer for the second offense, but the students must go to an alcohol or other drug abuse agency for help. Otherwise, they are dropped from the activity for an entire calendar year. A full-year suspension also is imposed for a third offense.

While the courts have upheld random drug testing for co-curriculars, the schools cannot legally randomly test the general student body, school officials said.

NEXT STEP

WHAT: first reading of starting a random drug testing program at Muskego High School

WHEN: as early as 7:30 p.m. June 2 Muskego-Norway School Board meeting

WHERE: Educational Services Center, S87 W18763 Woods Road, Muskego

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