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High School Drug Tests Expanded in Arcadia

October 11, 1987|HUGO MARTIN | Times Staff Writer

ARCADIA — Despite disappointing results from last year's voluntary drug testing program for athletes and student government leaders, Arcadia High School is expanding the program to include all students.

Only 40% of the athletes and student leaders participated in the testing, which began in September, 1986, as a way to make it easier for students to resist peer pressure to take drugs, school officials said.

James Bryant, president of the Arcadia Board of Education, said the board was "disappointed that we didn't have more kids (participating in) this program. We would have liked to have up to 70% or 80% participation."

Officials would not say exactly how many students took part last year, but they expressed hope that more will participate in this year's expanded program.

Testing by Lottery

The program is not aimed at regular drug users, said Tom Payne, the school's assistant principal. "The program's whole direction is aimed at those students who are experimenting with drugs. It's not to stop them from using drugs, but to keep them from taking (drugs) in the first place."

Each week volunteers for the program enter a lottery, and five are called in for urinalysis. Results of the tests, administered by Methodist Hospital, are not seen by school officials. If test results are positive, parents are notified by phone; if negative, they receive a letter.

Principal Jerry Barshay said the program is intended to make it easier for students to say no to drugs.

"I've heard of kids being offered drugs at parties in which they say, 'No, I can't because I'm involved in this voluntary drug testing program, and I might be tested soon,' " Barshay said. "Some kids use it as leverage because it's so hard to say no."

'Good Excuse'

Jeff Wickline, 17, a senior who is on the football team, said he feels no peer pressure to take drugs but knows of some students who do.

"I think it's a good program," Wickline said. "It gives the student a good excuse to say no."

But Ted Pilmer, 17, said he doesn't think the program will make an impact on regular drug users.

"The few who are taking drugs are sure not to sign up for the program," Pilmer said. "You really have to be on drugs to take drugs and then take the test."

Other school districts in the San Gabriel Valley have dealt with the drug testing issue in various ways. The Baldwin Park Unified district initiated voluntary testing this year and has had "tremendous" results, said Trifone Pagone, coordinator of the program.

"We have had hundreds of students sign up for the program," Pagone said. "We even have faculty, administrators and coaches signed up." He said he could not reveal the exact number of participants.

Last year, the Rowland Unified School District Board of Education considered testing for drugs in its high schools but decided to "approach the problem in a different way," said Steve Hansen, principal of Rowland High School.

"We held public sessions and found that members of the community wanted drug use to be an issue handled within the family," Hansen said.

Code of Conduct

Rowland High approaches drug use through "a strict code of conduct," he said. "Drug users at our high schools are dealt with severely."

Many other high schools in California have implemented volunteer testing programs, including schools in Simi Valley, Huntington Beach, Fallbrook, Coronado, San Diego and the San Fernando Valley.

Arcadia board President Bryant said the program may have an impact on some drug users. If they want to stop taking drugs, he said, they can take the test, get caught and receive treatment and counseling.

"And some students want to get caught," Bryant said. "So this is the perfect tool."

But Arcadia school officials agree that such an impact won't come immediately. "It's going to take a while for this to become the 'in' thing," Payne said. "I think that by the fourth year it will be better accepted."

John Beattie, boys' cross-country coach at Arcadia High, said one reason for last year's low participation rate may have been that some athletes like to drink on weekends and do not want to be caught. The test also detects alcohol use.

"It's a pretty well-known fact that people drink around here, athletes as well as anyone else," Beattie said.

School officials hope things will be different this year.

"We think there will be a higher participation rate because students will know about the program and know that we will respect their privacy," said Suzanne Keavney, district director of pupil personnel.

"It's a good program because it is a non-punitive approach to dealing with drug problems," Keavney said.

'Good Statement'

Officials say support for the program from parents and the community has been very strong. "It makes a good statement about our school and our community," Barshay said.

The school district plans to seek donations from the community to pay half the cost of the drug tests. Methodist Hospital is picking up the tab for the other half.

Steve Shaul, 17, a senior at Arcadia High who was on the football team and participated in the program, said he was tested last year and passed. "My parents knew I did not use drugs, but they were reassured by the results of the test," he said.

Proud of Passing

Shaul and Wickline say their teammates often talked about taking the test and sounded proud when they announced that they had passed.

School officials agree that the voluntary testing program should be only weapon in the fight against drug use. "We have counselors and others who can refer the drug users where to get help," Bryant said.

"But drugs are a problem on every campus, not just ours," he said. "If people think there is no problem on their campus, they are hiding their heads in the sand."

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