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Hart school district might drug test

Voluntary program could help combat substance abuse among teens

Posted: February 2, 2009 9:42 p.m.
Updated: February 3, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 

Hart board members will decide Wednesday whether to initiate a voluntary student random drug testing program as a way to deter teens from using drugs.

"I don't think it's a punishment program," said Patricia Hanrion, William S. Hart Union High School District board member. "But this is a way for parents to be aware if their students are involved in any kind of activity, and if that is the case, they're made aware of different kinds of programs."

The proposal comes after more than a year of discussions among district officials and parents over initiating a random drug testing policy for students involved in extracurricular activities, said Superintendent Jaime Castellanos.

After initial concerns that the program would be involuntary, district officials changed its design so parents control whether to enlist their students in the program, he said.

The scope of the testing also expanded from students in extracurricular activities to all students, Castellanos said.

If approved, district officials would begin a 90-day spring semester pilot program from March through May among all of the Hart district's junior high and high schools.

Program funding comes from a $216,000 Department of Education grant for the 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2011-12 school years.

No district money would be used for the program.

Students who are registered by their parents undergo random drug tests.

If a test comes back positive for drugs, parents are able to either do nothing, find help for their student on their own or talk to a school counselor, Castellanos said.

Drug test results stay between the third-party drug company and the parents.

Gauging drug use among high school students is difficult and school officials use the number of drug-related suspensions and expulsions for guidance, Castellanos said.

"We do know that there is a drug issue in this valley," Hanrion said.

Cary Quashen, founder of ACTION, a local drugs and substance abuse prevention nonprofit organization, knows about the significant drug use.

Over the past year, Quashen has seen a significant increase in his number of clients.

He credits stronger drugs, especially prescription drugs and marijuana.

"We're actually getting more (clients) seeking counseling, more parents seeking help for their children. Even more adults seeking help," Quashen said.

Board members view the program as a way to combat drug use among teens.

"If they know they have been volunteered for a drug program, it may give them a way to say no," said Hart board president Steve Sturgeon. "That's really the strongest benefit out of the process."

Board member Gloria Mercado-Fortine views the education component of the program as a benefit.

"I think this is probably a good start," she said.

"I'll be very curious to see how much this is used and to see the effectiveness of it to see if it has any impact in terms of curbing the number of students involved in drug-, alcohol-related cases," she said.

Quashen is pleased with the proposal.

"I'm excited to see that we're taking a stand against drugs in Santa Clarita," he said.

"It starts at home. We really (have to) talk to our kids and educate our children," Quashen said.

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