Arcadia High School will begin a voluntary drug-testing program for athletes and student government leaders when school begins today, making it one of the few schools in Southern California with such a program.
About 600 students, all athletes except for 18 student government leaders, will be asked to participate in a weekly lottery in which five names will be chosen for urinalysis tests.
The results of the tests, to be administered by Methodist Hospital of Southern California in Arcadia, will be revealed only to the students and their parents.
“This program will provide a reason for students to say no when they are dared to experiment with drugs at parties or other activities,” said Jerry Barshay, school principal. “A student volunteering for the program will establish the fact that he is an independent thinker and capable of being a leader among his peers.”
Student body President Lisa Hudson and other student leaders agreed that the program will make it easier for students to resist peer pressure to take drugs and that, although it probably will not help drug abusers, it will help students who are undecided about drug use.
“If the program catches on we will get a large percentage of participation and it might become the ‘in’ thing to do, like a club on the campus to join,” said Hudson, who plans to sign up for the program.
Kelly McEntee, a senior on the school’s executive council, said she too hopes the program “will become the ‘in’ thing to do, but it might take a while before that happens. I’m not looking for instant success but it is a good first step.”
“I haven’t yet thought about whether I will sign up for the program,” she added. “I want to talk to my parents first, and if they want me too, I probably will.”
Robert Kladisko, president of the school board, is so enthusiastic about the program, which was approved unanimously by the board last week after a yearlong study, that he has agreed to be tested and may challenge the other board members to do the same.
“Substance abuse won’t go away, and this is something we should have been doing a long time ago and I’m glad we are doing it now,” Kladisko said.
Kladisko said that football Coach Dick Salter first suggested that such a program be started at Arcadia because coaches at Edison High School in Huntington Beach thought the program there was a success.
Originally, Arcadia school officials had considered asking only athletes to take part, following the lead of other schools that have limited drug testing programs.
But Hudson, the student body president, thought other students should be encouraged to participate.
“I asked why only the athletes, and the answer was that a difference could be seen in their physical performance,” she said. “But the athletes say, ‘Why is it always just us?’ so both groups were included.”
Barshay is in favor of including the other students because it will not “look like athletes are the only ones who have the problem in our society.”
Hudson said she is glad “to know Arcadia is doing something and acting quickly to get the program under way, although I hope this doesn’t mean people will say Arcadia has a worse drug problem than other schools.”
She did express concern about the possibility that parents might pressure their children to participate. “If parents understand the purpose of the program, they might encourage their kids, but I hope there won’t be pressure because that defeats the purpose.”
Brad Scott, a co-captain of the football team, said he did not think parents will have to put pressure on his teammates because all of them have indicated that they will volunteer.
But he did express concern about inaccurate test results.
“The school is reviewing the possibility of a repeat test if one of us gets a positive reading,” he said. “And when you fill out the form you list if you are on any specific medication so the doctor knows if that has affected the test.”
The 600 students eligible for the program will submit forms to the school. On Oct. 1, the forms will be sent to Methodist Hospital, which will administer the urine test for alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, stimulants, depressants and PCP.
Selected at Random
The hospital will place a number on each form and on each Friday five will be selected at random. Those students will be notified on Sunday and asked to go to the hospital the next day for the test. Students and their parents will be notified of the results two days later.
The numbers will remain in the lottery, so some students may be tested more than once while others may never be tested.
Because of the cost of the tests and the inability of the hospital to handle the tests of all students, only 600 of the school’s 2,200 students will be asked to take part. The non-athletes eligible are the 18 members of the executive council, which includes the student body president, class presidents and student senators from each class.
Barshay said that the program will be assessed in February to see if it can or should be extended to other students. Methodist Hospital is paying half the cost of each $19 test and the school district is seeking donations from community organizations to pay the other half.
“The cost of the testing is a problem and one of the reasons we can’t include more students now,” Barshay said. “We have to find out how many kids we can afford to test. We can’t ask the kids to pay for their own testing because then there is no incentive for them to do it.
“And if we decided to include all students, with only five tested a week, the statistical likelihood of (any one student) being tested goes down.”
No one regards the voluntary testing program as a cure-all and some of the student leaders agreed to support the program only after lengthy discussions with school officials.
And many of them still have some concerns, especially if the program is expanded to include all students at the school.
Problems With Parents
Teri Smaldino, secretary of the executive council and a member of the soccer team, said her two main concerns were faulty test results and pressure from parents.
“If there is parent pressure then kids will bad-mouth the program and put it down. The program should be voluntary,” said Smaldino, who will participate.
But McEntee, a senator representing the senior class on the executive council, said she does not regard parent pressure as a problem.
“If your parent wants you to be in it, that’s OK with me because the program is designed for both students and their parents,” she said.
Making a Start
Kristin Cooke, interclub council president and a member of the soccer team, said she does not understand why parents have to know the test results at all. “If you can have an abortion without parents knowing, why this?” she asked.
“But hopefully this will bring parents and children closer,” she said. “This generation is growing farther apart. This is a start and you have to start somewhere.”
Cooke is uncertain about whether she will participate, but said it is likely that she will.
Barshay pointed out that the purpose of the program is to help the students resist pressure to use drugs and to strengthen relationships between the students and their families.
‘One More Effort’
“It is not a cure-all. It is just one more effort,” he said.
“The problem abusers probably won’t volunteer for the test but you never know,” Barshay said. “The kid with a problem may want to get caught because he wants help.”
Barshay, who said that alcohol is the most frequently abused substance among students at his school, expressed concern that outsiders might think that Arcadia is alone in having a drug problem.
“The types of drugs taken vary (among schools) but the problem is similar across the country,” he said.
At least six other school systems in California already are running voluntary drug testing programs or plan to start this school year. Programs are under way at schools in Huntington Beach, Fallbrook and Coronado. Schools in San Diego, Wilmington and Colton plan to begin drug testing this year.
The program at Edison High School in Huntington Beach has been termed a success and is now open to all students. Initially, only athletes could participate.
Edison Principal Jack Kennedy said even he, other administrators and coaches have their names in that school’s lottery, although his name never has been drawn.
“Kids are putting their negative result forms on the bulletin board in the locker room,” he said, “and since anyone can participate, neighboring schools are sending kids who want to do it.
“Enthusiasm builds through word of mouth, by leadership groups, although I don’t know the rate of participation.”
Edison began its program a year ago by testing members of the football team, then added other athletes and its student government group.
Los Angeles County school officials said that Banning High School in Wilmington will start a drug testing program will school resumes, making it the only other school in the county with such an anti-drug effort.