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Let's Have a Discussion
About Drug Testing Students

Haverhill School Committeeman Scott Wood

The issue of drug testing in Haverhill schools has been talked about and debated by many people in the community. I believe this is a healthy discussion.

The issue of drug use among teenagers is not unique to Haverhill, but also does not exclude it. In 2002, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that local school districts may drug test students who participate in after-school activities. In that ruling, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote, “We find that testing students who participate in extracurricular activities is a reasonably effective means of addressing the school district’s legitimate concerns in preventing, deterring and detecting drug use.”

Also, the state department of education has said that school districts may drug test any student based on “reasonable suspicion.”

The 2003 annual Youth Risk Survey showed that 17% of Haverhill High students have experimented with hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine. This was a 2% increase from 2002. Also, experimentation with marijuana went from 42% in 2002 to 49% in 2003. A taskforce has been set up to investigate this issue.

I will be chairing the taskforce and it is made up of parents, students, educators and law enforcement officials. This taskforce will look into every possible way to lower the drug use rate in Haverhill schools.

Besides legality, the other issue concerning some people is the cost factor. How much will it cost the city? The cost would be very minimal, if any at all, to the school district. The Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program offers grants to local school districts that institute drug testing.

Other branches of the federal government, along with private groups, also offer grants to school districts for the purpose of drug testing. I see drug testing as a measure that can save student’s lives. Testing is not designed to prosecute students, but to get students the help they need. In fact, many districts that test offer to waive the punishment if a student agrees to drug counseling. Testing should also have a positive side to it.

One district in Alabama that drug tests students offers incentives for students to pass. If a student passes, that student receives a 10% discount at restaurants and local businesses within his community that have agreed to be part of the program. As you can see, there are many ways to go about this. The taskforce will look at everything and report back with a recommendation that may or may not include drug testing.

I brought this issue forward to be proactive. Too often, politicians just react when bad things happen. I want to prevent those bad things from occurring. This has stirred a very healthy debate in our community and maybe talking about this issue and providing solutions will save a young person’s life.

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Prior Columns By Scott Wood