LONG BEACH — Wilson High School officials asked student-athletes last week to participate in a voluntary drug testing program--the first of its kind in the Long Beach Unified School District.
The request has been met with mixed reviews by the school's roughly 600 athletes.
"They say it's voluntary, but if you don't do it, you're suspected of doing drugs," said April Jolliff, a volleyball player. "My parents are making me do it."
School officials say they hope that the testing will ease some of the drug and alcohol problems faced by students everywhere.
Drug Use Is Pervasive
"Drugs and alcohol are pervasive among our young people," Principal Neil Bradley said. "Anything we can do to help youngsters go against the peer pressure is good."
Several students agreed that the program is a good idea.
Caron Pardee, 17, called the concept "neat."
"People look up to us," said Pardee, a volleyball player, "and when they see athletes taking this kind of stand, it might influence them."
But Pardee also agreed with her friend, Jolliff, that some students believe they are being pressured by parents to participate.
"It should not be up to our parents, it should be up to us," Pardee said.
Each student and their parents must sign a permission card before participating. Once a week, the names of up to 10 students will be randomly drawn. Those students will then march to the school nurse's office and give urine samples that a hospital lab will then analyze.
If a student tests positive for either drugs or alcohol, a doctor will notify the parents--but not the school, Bradley said.
"We don't want to know," he said. "It's really between the parent and the student. We want to ensure confidentiality."
Students will probably be called to give their urine either between classes, toward the end of a class or during their elective courses, rather than academic classes, Bradley said, because "we want to keep class interruptions at a minimum."
Pete Lafkas, a football center for the Bruins, said marijuana, alcohol and "sometimes a little cocaine" are common at parties that he and his friends attend. "There's a big problem."
But Lafkas said he doesn't "do that stuff," and he doesn't plan to participate in the testing program.
"My mom knows how I am," he said. "She knows I drink, but I don't do any drugs."
Jolliff echoed his sentiments: "I told my dad, 'I'm honest with you, Dad. I don't feel I need a doctor (analyzing urine.)' "
Bradley acknowledged that some parents may force their children to participate, but he said it also works the other way around: Many students talk their parents into giving their consent. Thus, the testing "opens up communication" between parents and their children.
Pressure From Coaches
Parents may not be the only ones pressuring students. One cross-country runner said her parents are not forcing her to participate because they "know what I do. They don't need a doctor telling them I drink."
But when asked for her name, she declined. "My coach thinks I'm doing it," she said.
If successful, the pilot program will spread to other schools, said Ed Eveland, assistant superintendent of the Long Beach district.
"I think drug and alcohol abuse is our No. 1 problem at the schools," Eveland said.
School officials are uncertain how many athletes are participating, but they "had a good sign-up," Bradley said.
Athletes who take part in fall sports attended a mandatory meeting Wednesday night to hear a presentation on the program, he said. Their parents' attendance was also mandatory. Athletes in sports that don't begin until after January will have to bring their parents to similar meetings in December.
Willy Quest, a tennis player who has until December to decide, said he is not sure whether to participate.
"If it's voluntary, it's OK," said Quest, 17. "But the parents are making you do it. And I think that's why a lot of people are doing it."
Cheerleader Danielle Sandefur, 16, said: "My parents said it was up to me (to decide if she would submit to a drug test). I chose to take it because I had nothing to hide."
'Keep Off Drugs'
Lee Allison, 16, a water polo player, said: "It's a good way to keep athletes off drugs--if for no other reason, because they'll be scared to get caught."
Officials at a local hospital have volunteered to conduct the tests for free, so there is no cost to the school or the district, Bradley said.
Other nearby communities that have established similar programs in recent years include the Simi Valley Unified School District in Ventura County, Edison High School in Huntington Beach, Arcadia High School in the San Gabriel Valley and two school districts in San Diego County.
School district officials considered mandatory testing, as recommended by an 18-member advisory committee in 1986. But court cases have struck down such programs as unconstitutional, Eveland said.
The testing is just one of several experimental efforts to combat drug and alcohol abuse at Wilson High.
Alternative to Parties
Beginning this week, the school will sponsor a dance every Friday night as an alternative for students who wish to avoid drug and alcohol-filled parties. Also beginning this fall, parents whose children are about to enter a driver-training course will be required to attend a mandatory discussion about the dangers of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Since last year, the school's 2,700 students have been invited each month to teen-age forums, where they discuss with an expert topics such as alcohol abuse, suicide and sexuality. Students are also encouraged to sign "Say No to Drugs" pledge cards that allow them to receive discounts at several local businesses, Bradley said.
"We think we're doing some good things for our young people," Bradley said. "If we can stop some (from drinking or doing drugs), it's worth it."