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L.B. Panel Backs Drug Testing for Student Activities

September 25, 1986|DAVID HALDANE | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — Students who want to play musical instruments in school bands here may eventually be required to take a test for illegal drugs. So might those wishing to participate in any other extracurricular activities--from cheerleading to athletics to drama--as well as all teachers, administrators and coaches who supervise them.

An 18-member advisory committee has made those recommendations to Long Beach Unified School Supt. E. Tom Giugni, who says he is not philosophically opposed to mandatory drug testing. Giugni said he has asked for a report on legal implications of the recommendations.

"Something will eventually come before the board (of education)," he said, "but a lot more has to be done."

Giugni said he expects to have the report on legal implications of mandatory drug testing by the end of next month. Following that, Giugni said, the matter would proceed "one step at a time."

Board President John Kashiwabara said he is generally in favor of mandatory drug testing and would be inclined to vote for it.

'Losing a Generation'

And Ed Eveland, the assistant superintendent for secondary education who convened the advisory committee at Giugni's request, said he would like to see the testing begin either immediately following the Christmas break in January or next fall. "I really feel that we're losing a generation of kids," Eveland said. "We've got to deal with it and I'm for not putting it off any longer."

Eveland's committee--consisting of a cross-section of teachers, administrators, counselors, students and parents from throughout the district--came to its decision after meeting for about two hours at Wilson High School on Sept. 3. The deliberations were short, Eveland said, because there was virtually no opposition to mandatory drug testing.

"Sometimes we have to back up on rights and say we need more control," he said. "I think we've reached that point. The time is now and . . . the majority of people out there will support us."

The committee was formed following a call last year by high school principals for the mandatory drug testing of all high school athletes. The call followed the much-publicized arrests of several local students--including one popular quarterback--on drug-related charges.

Committee members say they expanded the principals' recommendation to include participants in non-athletic extracurricular activities because they consider such students to be role models for their peers as well as visible representatives of their respective schools.

Testing students involved in school activities "would allow the peer pressure effect to take hold. The peer pressure would be able to be turned (against drugs)," said Wayne Piercy, principal of Poly High School and a member of the committee.

"What we want to do is give kids a reason for saying no," said Netta Roberts, a drug intervention counselor at Wilson High and another committee member. "Athletes aren't the only ones who are exposed to drugs."

Tests of Adults Sought

The committee's recommendation, contained in a one-page memo submitted to Giugni earlier this month, defines as extracurricular those before- or after-school activities for which students are now required to maintain a 2.0 grade-point average in order to participate. It calls for the mandatory testing of adults who supervise such activities, according to committee members, primarily to make the plan more palatable to the students.

"One of the best ways to get acceptance of this on the part of the kids is to require the adults to do it," Eveland said.

In addition to the mandatory testing, the recommendation calls for a voluntary testing program open to all students, administrators, coaches and teachers in the district.

The committee's memo contains no specific timetables or details on how the plan would be implemented. But committee members say their recommendation refers to testing that would indicate traces of such illegal substances as cocaine, marijuana or heroin, but probably not alcohol or athletic steroids.

Students found to be using illegal substances, they said, would be barred from participation in extracurricular activities until their rehabilitation had been certified by a qualified physician.

Parents Should Bear Cost

Eveland estimated that the testing could involve as many as 7,000 students at a cost of $12 to $20 per student. He said he thinks the cost should be borne by students' parents.

School officials say the testing program--if it is ever implemented--would be only the latest in a series of anti-drug efforts initiated by the district during the past year. Other programs include educational efforts on the elementary school level and active drug counseling teams at each of the district's five high schools.

During each of the past three years, according to district officials, an average of 25 students have been expelled from school for drug-related offenses, a number many fear may just be the tip of the iceberg.

"It's getting worse," said Eveland, who estimates that the number of Long Beach high school students experimenting with illegal drugs has doubled in the last 10 years. "The stuff is more available--they can get it anywhere. And there's a lot of money that these kids have in their pockets. They can do what they want."

Although a handful of high schools in the county have initiated voluntary drug-testing programs, according to Bob Grossman, director of communications for the Los Angeles County Office of Education, no one--either on the school or the district level--has yet implemented a mandatory program like that being discussed in Long Beach.

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