IMAGE: Michelle Coley
Larry W. Smith  /  AP
Michelle Coley speaks about the new El Dorado School District drug testing policy. Any middle school or high school student in the school district who wants to participate in or attend any extracurricular activities may now be tested for drug and alcohol use.
updated 9/13/2006 6:03:45 PM ET 2006-09-13T22:03:45

Random drug testing of student athletes has become as routine as study hall and lunch at many high schools across the country. But this factory town outside Wichita is taking testing to the extreme.

It is instituting random drug screening for all middle and high school students participating in — or even just attending — any extracurricular activity. That includes sports, clubs, field trips, driver’s education, even school plays.

Those who don’t sign consent forms cannot attend games, go to school dances, join a club or so much as park their car on school property.

Administrators insist the district does not have a drug problem, and say the new policy — one of the toughest in the nation — is aimed at keeping it that way.

“We see this in the best interest of our students. We don’t see this is a punitive measure,” said Superintendent Tom Biggs.

Since the policy was enacted this school year, at least 425 students out of 600 high schoolers, and 215 of the 315 middle school students, have signed forms consenting to random urine tests for alcohol, tobacco and drugs. No one has been tested yet, and school officials don’t want to tip off students about when the first random drug test will be conducted.

Privacy concerns
Brett Shirk, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri, questioned the constitutionality of the practice.

“That policy invades the privacy of students that need deterrence and risks steering those students to a greater risk of substance abuse that makes the drug problems worse,” Shirk said. Some authorities said that excluding students from extracurricular activities will just lead them into deeper trouble.

Some students, including 17-year-old Aurelia Resa, said they are offended by the policy. “What you do outside of school isn’t anybody’s business but yours,” Resa said. “They should be able to respect your privacy.”

But 16-year-old softball player Lauren Roedel said: “I don’t have a problem with it, because I don’t do drugs.”

A 2002 Supreme Court ruling opened the door to drug-testing of athletes, and the federal government has promoted drug testing, awarding $7.5 million in grants last year to help schools start such programs.

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The White House drug-policy office estimates 2,000 public and private districts conduct drug tests. The National School Boards Association has reported that 5 percent of public school districts test athletes and 2 percent test students involved in extracurricular activities.

“It is really a rural and suburban policy issue. Almost no major school districts have implemented random drug testing programs in major cities and urban areas,” said Jennifer Kern, a researcher for the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance, which promotes non-criminal alternatives in fighting drugs.

Results won't be reported to police
School officials in El Dorado, a town of 12,660 where the biggest employers are a refinery and a balloon factory, say that under the new policy, covering grades 7 to 12, positive test results will not be reported to police and will not affect a student’s academic participation.

But parents will be notified, and offenders will be suspended from extracurricular activities, the penalty escalating from two weeks to more than four months for repeat violations.

Rod Bieker, general counsel for the Kansas Department of Education, said of El Dorado’s all-encompassing policy: “No one is going to know whether that is constitutional or not.”

In 1999, a federal court struck down a school policy in Lockney, Texas, that required drug testing of all youngsters in grades 6 through 12, whether or not there was any suspicion of drug use.

Dave Adams, the father of a 17-year-old student at El Dorado High and a city police officer, said the district’s previous rules about drugs and alcohol were weak and tolerated bad behavior.

“I think all too often we want to let things slide because we put winning before anything else,” Adams said. “At this age level we need to be teaching fundamentals — good sportsmanship and good citizenship.”

Pam Coley, who has 14- and 16-year-old daughters at the school, said drug testing is “no big deal” and most parents in the community support it.

“There probably has been way too much leniency in the, past and things kind of swing one way or the other,” she said. “El Dorado is a fairly conservative community, and Kansas is, too.”

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