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updated: 7/17/2011 7:01 AM

D95 ponders drug testing after Antioch reports success

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By Danielle Gensburg

If Lake Zurich Unit District 95 officials are looking for insight on launching and operating a student drug testing program, they could look about 30 minutes north.

Antioch-Lake Villa Area High School District 117 officials say they have had success with a random drug testing program they implemented seven years ago.

Thanks to a $1 million federal grant, District 117 uses a hair-based drug testing program that costs the district about $15 per screening at Antioch and Lakes Community high schools.

Officials said they can track various substances, and can base results off statewide drug surveys.

"One of the nice things about our program is that any parents who want their children to do it, we include them," District 117 co-Superintendent Mike Nekritz said. "We were aware that others might want to take advantage of this program. It builds trust and communication between parents and their kids."

At a July 7 special committee meeting, District 95 officials acknowledged the District 117 program while discussing details of their own drug testing proposal for Lake Zurich High School.

Under the proposal being considered, six times a year 15 students in extracurricular activities and/or with parking permits would be tested. The students would be chosen randomly.

The testing method, urine or hair samples, is undecided. The tests would be administered by the Student Assistance Programmer, a position coming this fall, to provide guidance to students.

District 95 officials want to get public comment at a meeting this fall, and may survey residents regarding the program.

The idea has its critics. On July 7 several Lake Zurich residents and parents expressed concerns ranging from the invasion of students' privacy and the program's cost to their rights as parents to govern their children's upbringing.

"I think the work of our school officials is to teach our students," said Lake Zurich parent Kim Roach. "I want the school to teach our children with dignity and respect."

Nekritz said the same concerns were voiced in District 117.

"There were a lot of people that were nervous," he said. "Understand that there's going to be varied opinions and that all those opinions are valued.

"There's a common ground that we want kids to be healthy and safe. There's such a thing as too much, but we've found a nice balance with our program."

Officials said they believe the majority of parents appreciate the district's position, and district officials rely on their support.

"We've had parents thank us for doing this," Nekritz said.

Former District 117 superintendent Jay Sabatino said with parent support, drug testing is a worthwhile endeavor.

"If you have a supportive community, the program is easy to institute," he said.

At District 117, all first-year students are tested, and tested randomly after that.

Consequences for students who test positive at Antioch and Lakes Community high schools range from first-time offenders being suspended from athletics for 35 percent of the season, to third-time offenders being removed from their activity permanently.

"Second- or third-time, we're not nearly as forgiving," Nekritz said. "The intent is to get help. If students demonstrate compliance with the program, the consequences are reduced."

Nekritz and other District 117 officials advised caution in dealing with student privacy but said testing becomes routine.

"Every freshman is tested in our district anyway, so no specific individual is being selected," he said.

"Otherwise, it's random. Most kids don't care. It becomes routine and standard, although it wasn't the first couple of years," he explained.

District officials say they have seen improvement over the years with the number of positive tests dwindling.

"There's been a very big reduction in positive tests over the years," Nekritz said. "Kids now have an excuse when they're forced with any sort of peer pressure. The number of incidents that we deal with as far as drugs is very minimal."

Records show that 11 Antioch High School students tested positive for drugs in the 2008-09 school year, the earliest statistics available this week because of storm-related problems.

In comparison, 2010-11 results from both Lakes and Antioch showed four students tested positive.

District 117 also falls below the state and national average on student self-reported drug use on the Illinois Youth Survey, an anonymous survey given to students, he said.

"When we instituted the drug testing program, we had the same drug problem that every school has," Nekritz said. "But, the board decided they would confront the problem head on. The program has done well to curb drug use."

• Daily Herald staff writer Lee Filas contributed to this report.