NORTH OLMSTED, Ohio — On Wednesday night, the North Olmsted Board of Education voted in favor of randomly drug testing middle school students involved in sports or extracurricular activities.
The school district implemented random drug testing for high school students in 2015.
“It's essentially just an extension of our current drug testing policy that we approved about four years ago at the high school,” superintendent Dr. Michael E. Zalar said in an interview with News 5 last week.
In that interview, Zalar said the policy has been successful at the high school level, and district leaders felt it would be beneficial to 7th and 8th grade students, too.
“It gives students a way to say no when they're confronted in kind of a peer pressure situation. It gives them an out,” Zalar said. “They don't want to let their teammates down. They don't want to let their classmates down, and they enjoy participating in this activity.”
While some critics believe middle schoolers are too young to be tested for drug use, Zalar said it’s the right time to act.
“The middle school level really is where a number of students begin that experimentation. It's really a transitional time for students,” he said.
The drug tests would take place three times a year. The students participating in extracurricular activities and sports would be put into a pool of students who could be randomly selected for testing. Zalar said the tests are meant to be helpful, not punitive.
If a student tests positive, the first consequence is to notify the parents and to offer the student counseling. Two or three violations would result in some loss of participation in that particular group or activity. However, students would be able to stay on the team or in the club.
The American Academy of Pediatrics opposes drug testing students, writing in a statement, “Although school drug testing has hypothetical benefits, and studies have noted modest reductions in self-reported student drug use, the American Academy of Pediatrics opposes widespread implementation of these programs because of the lack of solid evidence for their effectiveness."
Zalar said he has received overwhelming support from parents in the district.
At Wednesday's meeting, one parent expressed concerns, saying that she has a 12-year-old son entering seventh grade, and that because he is black, she is concerned for his safety and that of other students of color.
"I do have a lot of questions about how exactly it’s going to be implemented, who would be there, will police be called?" Kelly Sullivan said. "If police are called, will they bring guns? How is it all going to go down?"
The district's athletic director clarified that students are randomly selected by the drug testing company, and the superintendent noted that police will not be called or involved at all.
“This is just an opportunity for us to contact the parent, and then to really highly recommend that they get involved in a counseling program, so that negative behavior can be deterred at the earliest possible age," Zalar said.