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updated: 10/3/2011 10:06 AM

Dist. 95 wants to hear parents' thoughts on drug testing

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As plans to test random Lake Zurich High School students for illegal drug use near completion, officials are giving parents on either side of the issue another opportunity to share their opinions.

A public forum on the matter is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday at Lake Zurich Middle School North, 95 Hubbard Lane, Hawthorn Woods.

It's the latest effort from Lake Zurich Unit District 95 board members to hear from parents and community members about the divisive issue. Officials don't want parents to feel drug testing is being forced "down their throats," board member Tony Pietro said.

"We want to have a community conversation," Pietro said. "We want people to feel like they have an opportunity to voice their opinions and let us know how they feel."

District 95 officials have been developing a drug-testing policy for about a year. Nothing has been approved yet.

The discussions were prompted by national concerns about drug use among teens, not by any specific local cases or trends, Pietro said.

Federal law prohibits public schools from forcing all students to take drug tests, but the courts have allowed schools to require students involved in clubs, athletics or other extracurricular activities to submit to testing.

The latest District 95 proposal is available on the district's website, Board member Doug Goldberg encouraged people to read the plan before the meeting and to come with questions.

"It's a complex issue," Goldberg said. "It's an emotional issue."

If adopted, the policy calls for drug tests to be conducted up to six times during a school year. Each time, a computer program would randomly select 15 students who participate in extracurricular activities or have parking permits.

Students could be selected more than once per year, according to the proposal.

Students found to have been using illegal drugs would be suspended from participating in activities for half a season or academic year. Second offenses would result in activity suspension for the rest of the year.

Parking privileges would be lost, too, officials have said.

Students who refuse to be tested will face the same consequences as those who test positive. Students who cheat or tamper with the tests will be ineligible for all extracurricular activities for the rest of the school year.

Drug testing is being considered for the district's seven other schools.

Earlier this year, the district surveyed parents on the issue and found a majority of respondents favored testing, Pietro said.

But there have been critics, too, people who believe the proposed policy intrudes on the responsibilities of parents.

Keith Petropoulos, the parent of a Lake Zurich High sophomore, is among those objecting to the plan. Random drug testing creates a bureaucracy that selects teens without any justification, he said.

"That's not a fair situation to put a child in," he said.

Petropoulos and other like-minded parents have sent emails and distributed fliers about the proposed policy in recent weeks. He hopes district leaders instead develop a program that rewards students for good behavior and "instills virtues in kids."

"There shouldn't be a punishment program," Petropoulos said.

Another parental survey is planned, District 95 spokeswoman Jean Malek said. Additionally, the board will discuss the matter at a Nov. 3 committee of the whole meeting.

Officials expect to vote on a drug-testing policy by the end of the year.

Goldberg said he and his fellow trustees haven't yet made up their minds on the issue. That's why Wednesday's forum is important, he said.

"The board has had a lot of debate and a lot of discussion ... but our interest is to find out where the community is on this," Goldberg said.

Antioch High School, Lakes High in Lake Villa and Huntley High School are among the suburban public schools with drug-testing programs.

Private schools do not share the same legal restrictions and can test an entire student population for drug use. St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights has such a program.