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posted: 8/7/2013 5:00 AM

Editorial: Schools right to study drug, alcohol testing

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Two years ago, we supported an effort at Lake Zurich High School to institute random drug testing for students in extracurricular activities or who have a parking permit. We saw the testing then and now as another tool in the fight against increased drug use among suburban youth

But we also said that parents need to be on board -- and as Lake Zurich found out, parents were not. They overwhelmingly expressed their disapproval in a survey and at public hearings and the idea was scrapped.

This summer we have two more schools dealing with the testing issue. One is even going a step further -- random alcohol testing.

St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights has been drug testing students -- all students -- since 2007. They report that less than 1 percent of the current drug tests come back positive. That's a success story and one of which the school community should be proud. Now they want to make sure their students are also refraining from alcohol.

We again are supportive of the effort. Long past should be the days that drinking among high school students is somehow winked at, tolerated or encouraged. We've published too many stories of drunken driving deaths of high school students to look at this lightly.

"We want to intervene in the lives of kids who are drinking a lot or starting to experiment with alcohol," said the Rev. Corey Brost, St. Viator school president. "We want to give kids a good reason to say, 'No, I can't drink, St. Viator tests for alcohol.' "

A 2012 University of Michigan study reported that 42 percent of high school seniors drank an alcoholic beverage in the 30 days prior to the survey and 24 percent reported binge drinking (having five or more drinks in a row at least once in the prior two weeks). While alcohol use has declined over the years (in favor of other drug use), it's still a problem that needs to be addressed. We see no reason why a school that is testing for drugs shouldn't test for alcohol as well.

Parents at St. Viator overwhelmingly approved of the plan, with 88 percent supporting it in an online poll. That support is crucial for success. We also think it's crucial that any testing come with plans to help students who test positive rather than punish them. St. Viator's plan has first-time offenders required to go through a mandatory evaluation with a school counselor and no disciplinary action. A second test 90 days later, however, could result in other discipline.

In Naperville Unit District 203, officials are going slow this summer in studying the issue and say they won't move forward without broad community support. The goal, should they move forward, is "getting help for the kids that need it," said school board member Mike Jaensch.

We think testing could help -- both for drugs and alcohol -- and we encourage all suburban private and public high schools to at least study the possibilities.

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