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Tests may have cut drug use in Lynchburg

Monday, February 4, 2013

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

(Editor’s note: Henry County school officials are preparing a proposal on drug testing of students in extra-curricular activities for consideration by the Henry County School Board. This is the third part in a series of stories about school systems in Virginia that have dealt with the issue.)

Lynchburg City Schools saw a decline in the number of positive test results over the years it tested student athletes for drug use, but incidents related to substance abuse have increased since the school division stopped testing.

That’s according to a report that was given to the Montgomery County School Board when it was seeking information in 2011 on student drug testing in Virginia. The Montgomery County board did not adopt a student drug testing policy after receiving the report, according to Brenda Drake, a spokeswoman for the school division.

Lynchburg Public Schools tested high school student-athletes for alcohol and drugs from the 1990s until 2010-11, when it discontinued the program because of the cost, according to the report provided to the Montgomery School Board.

The report said Lynchburg spent a maximum of $50,000 to test about 1,200 students, according to information from Dr. Al Coleman, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for the Lynchburg schools. In recent years, the school system stopped whole-team testing and conducted random tests during each athletic season. The least amount budgeted was $10,000.

The cost in staff time was significant but was not reflected in budgeted costs.

Lynchburg tested only high school athletes, citing the importance of safety in athletic competitions and the detrimental health effects of alcohol and drugs for students involved in sports, according to Coleman’s information in the report.

Until 2009, the school division tested every student at the beginning of each sports season. During each season, the division tested one day a week, so that 20 percent of each team was tested. Sometimes as many as 40 students were tested per day.

Logistics were difficult and resulted in some unintended consequences, including the amount of staff time needed in generating lists, checking tests, ensuring an unbroken chain to maintain samples, testing absent students when they returned to school, losing instructional time or escorting students, according to Coleman’s information.

A local company was awarded the contract to provide the tests. School board and school staff took on much of the clerical work involved from generating lists to following up on students who were absent for their tests, the information stated.

Students who tested positive were suspended from participation for 14 days and had to complete a plan of assistance verified by the substance abuse educator, according to the information.

It added that over the years, the number of positive test results declined. Testing an entire team at the beginning of the season and then conducting random tests was more effective than the random tests alone. However, since testing stopped, incidents related to substance abuse have increased, the information stated.

Neither Coleman nor Cindy Babb, spokeswoman for Lynchburg Schools, could be reached for comment.

According to school division records, the policy and regulations on drug testing of student athletes were adopted by the Lynchburg School Board on July 17, 1990, and revised a number of times.

Those regulations included:

• Noncompliance: If the student athlete, his/her parents or guardians refused to sign the consent form, the student was not to be permitted to be a member of a team. Also, if during the season the student athlete refused to be tested or attempted to tamper with or assisted others in tampering with the sample, the athlete was dropped from the team in the absence of extenuating circumstances.

• Positive test result (positive test results were cumulative over the student athlete’s career in the school division):

First positive test result: The athlete was removed from physical participation in practice and competition until the following three criteria were met: (1) at least 14 calendar days had elapsed; (2) satisfactory completion of the plan of assistance was verified by the substance abuse educator; (3) the student was retested by the testing agency with a negative result.

The athlete was allowed to continue to attend team practices but not dress out or participate. Any athlete who tested positive received substance abuse education and (after) being reinstated was retested once a month for as long as he participated in interscholastic sports for the remainder of the school year.

Second positive test result: The athlete was removed from physical participation in practice and competition for 365 days from the date of the positive test result registered by the testing laboratory. The student became eligible for athletic participation following the 365-day period. Drug testing resumed on a monthly basis once the student resumed participation in athletics and was a member of an athletic team.

Third positive test result: The athlete was ineligible for participation in interscholastic athletics for the rest of his high school career.

Regulations also dealt with such things as testing procedures, random tests, protecting student privacy and an appeal procedure.

The 2011 report to the Montgomery County School Board also said that the Lynchburg, Salem and Williamsburg-James City County school divisions were the only ones in Virginia that could be identified at that time with policies and programs for implementing random drug testing of students.

At that time, districts that did not include random drug testing policies but had policies that allowed for screening students who had violated the alcohol and drug policies were Roanoke, Buchanan, Russell, Dinwiddie, Fairfax, Henry, Mathews, Northumberland, Scott and York county school divisions, and Falls Church, Fredericksburg, Galax and Norfolk city school divisions, according to the 2011 report.


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