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Schools weigh funding for student drug tests

– Hoosier students are reporting that their drug and alcohol use is on the decline.

Yet local schools are aware that drugs and alcohol continue to show up in students’ lockers or vehicles, and without money to pay for drug testing, there’s little they can do.

Data from the Indiana Youth Institute show fewer students are drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes or using other drugs.

Southwest Allen County Schools and Smith-Green Community Schools in Churubusco – among the few local districts that test students – find screening to be an effective deterrent but struggle to find ways to pay for the tests.

Though Smith-Green pays for tests out of the district’s annual budget, Southwest Allen opts to go outside the district for money.

“We have grants and donations from the local community that help us sustain a program,” school social worker Anita Gross said. Even so, she added, the district has had to reduce the number of tests it gives each week to help offset the costs.

Southwest Allen, the only school district in Allen County that randomly tests students for drugs, started testing during the 2005-06 school year, Gross said. It began with getting the community and school board members on board and covering the cost of testing, Gross said.

For the first three years the random tests were funded through a federal grant. Then for three years they were paid for by the state, Gross said. After that, money dried up and the schools had to get creative.

Today, the tests – which cost $16 each – are paid for by the district’s Education Foundation’s No Alcohol/No Drugs Task Force by way of community donations, she said.

The district does not test students for steroids, primarily because those tests cost about $100 each, Gross said.

Smith-Green Community Schools began a drug testing program in 2007, but it has been a challenge keeping up the program without financial support, Athletic Director Andrew Wagner said.

One test costs $21 and is paid for through the district’s general fund, according to Smith-Green business manager Todd Fleetwood.

Testing students

Northwest Allen County Schools and East Allen County Schools do not conduct random drug testing, according to school officials.

Fort Wayne Community Schools doesn’t either, spokeswoman Krista Stockman said, but students can be tested if they are found with drugs or alcohol or if there is reasonable suspicion.

At Southwest Allen, students in grades 6 through 12 who participate in athletics or other extracurricular activities, as well as those who drive to school and park in school parking lots, are required to take the drug tests.

Twenty students are selected at random each week, Gross said.

At Smith-Green, the pool of students is limited to high school students who participate in extracurriculars or drive to school. Five high school students are selected each week, Wagner said.

At both school districts, students or their parents can also opt in to the program. About 240 students at Southwest Allen who aren’t required to be tested have agreed to participate in the program, Gross said.

There are also students at Smith-Green who opt in to the program, but the number isn’t kept separate from the overall list, Wagner said.

Once the list of students has been generated, each student is given a number. A drug processing lab then generates a list of random numbers that the districts pair with the matching number from the list of student names.

Parents are informed of the results, positive or negative, both schools said.

If students test positive for alcohol or drugs at Southwest Allen, their parents will be contacted and they will meet with school administrators and Gross.

Gross estimates that 1 percent to 5 percent of students test positive for drugs or alcohol each year.

The first violation is a 45-day suspension from extracurricular activities. After their first offense, students are given an opportunity to participate in a student assistance program that serves as a probationary period, Gross said.

If students test positive a second time, the punishment is a 90-day suspension from extracurriculars. After the third offense, they lose the privilege of participating for the remainder of their high school career, Gross said.

“We’ve never had anyone reach that point,” she added.

Wagner, at Smith-Green for two years, said he has seen no any tests come back positive, with the exception of students on medication.

“We do notify Mom and Dad and talk about it, but it’s always been a prescription drug that they were prescribed,” he said.

Like Southwest Allen, students at Smith-Green lose privileges if they test positive for drugs. The first time, students are suspended from all extracurricular activities for a fourth of the season, Wagner said. The second time is a full year, and after the third offense, students would be prohibited from participating for the remainder of their high school careers.