Park City School District considers student drug testing
The Park City School District is considering drug testing high school students who participate in sports or other extracurricular activities, a move aimed at combating perceived widespread student drug use.
The district is exploring the measure after the worries about drugs in Park City schools became heightened following the deaths of two 13-year-old Treasure Mountain Junior High School students. Police have not yet determined causes of death, but are investigating whether the students, best friends, died of overdoses.
Since the deaths, the community has been vocal about the prospects that many students use drugs such as marijuana. The district, shaken by the tragedy, has promised to help solve the problem.
The Board of Education was scheduled to discuss the possibility of student drug testing at a public meeting Tuesday.
Bob O’Connor, principal of Park City High School, said the district may choose to mandate drug testing at the start of a students’ participation in an extracurricular activity, as well as randomly throughout the year. The tests would screen for illegal substances, such as marijuana, and may also include performance-enhancing drugs like steroids.
The testing would come amid a perception that the majority of students are using at least marijuana, O’Connor said. He’s not sure the issue is that widespread, but he said it’s important to combat any student drug use.
“When a kid has been caught or admits to using, say, marijuana, the defense that parents use is, ‘Well, the whole team is doing it. How could you penalize my kid?’” he said. “I know that’s not true — it’s just a defensive reaction. But, if that’s the perception of a lot of parents, then we have a problem in our society that we need to address as a school.”
To O’Connor, the most concerning aspect of student drug use is that parents sometimes condone it. A portion of the community does not believe using marijuana is harmful for teens, he said.
“That’s the biggest battle we have to fight,” he said. “Testing, I think, is the only way around that.”
A student-athlete has been caught using drugs about once or twice each sports season in recent years, O’Connor said. The current penalty is forcing them to sit out one or two games and participate in a mandatory drug intervention screening. Students are typically suspended for further offenses, or for being high at a school-sanctioned event.
O’Connor said the consequences would be similar for students in extracurricular activities who fail a drug test.
“It won’t be a death sentence for a kid that gets caught,” he said. “We want to teach kids that what they’re doing is a mistake and wrong, but you don’t want to take away a passion and something that’s going to keep them in school.”
If the district implements drug testing, it will have to figure out how to pay for it. O’Connor said the district likely can’t afford to foot the bill for all the tests, so the cost may be folded into student participation fees.
Tania Knauer, president of the Board of Education, said she supports student drug testing but that there are many ways to do it. The Board will examine how other schools are drug testing their students, then ultimately determine how best to implement testing.
“We have to put together a comprehensive program that gets kids to understand that they cannot do drugs while they’re participating in any school activities,” she said.
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The South Summit Board of Education voted 4-1 to put a bond measure on November’s ballot asking for $87 million to build a new high school.