Steroids: To Test or To Educate?
Several school districts find a will and a way to examine their athletes for illegal substance use/
In February of last year, The Dallas Morning News published a multipart series on steroid use among high school students in Texas. The paper’s four-month investigation was wide-ranging, but shined a particular spotlight upon alleged abuses in the 13,700-student Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District, north of Dallas. The newspaper’s stories shocked and reverberated, not just through Tarrant County, but across the state. Use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs was suspected in professional sports, especially Major League Baseball where accusations have been flying like juiced home runs, but high school kids?
Informed just prior to publication of the newspaper’s findings, Grapevine-Colleyville officials launched their own investigation and soon disclosed that nine athletes had confessed to having used steroids.
Kay Waggoner, the district’s superintendent, declined to talk about the newspaper series or about the subject of steroid abuse. “We’re still dealing with the ramifications and repercussions of what happened,” she said.
Just months after the newspaper stories appeared, the Grapevine-Colleyville school board approved a random drug-testing plan for students who participate in sports and other extracurricular activities, from drama and debate to cheerleading and choir. Testing, which began with the 2005-06 school year, includes screenings for illegal steroid use.
What happened to the Grapevine-Colleyville school district was singularly painful, but its reaction – implementing a drug-testing program – is becoming increasingly common. More and more educators and policymakers are beginning to consider randomized drug testing as a way to stop student abuse of steroids and performance-enhancing drugs, hopefully before it becomes a significant and entrenched problem.
Jersey’s Test Plans
Even more recently, New Jersey has become the first state to mandate testing of high school students for performance-enhancing drugs in all sports.
In December, Richard J. Codey, acting governor at the time, signed an executive order calling for random testing of students in championship tournaments for 31 sports, beginning with the 2006-07 school year. Roughly 220,000 students in New Jersey participate in high school sports; about 10,000 are involved in post-season tournaments each year. The drug-testing plan, which will be overseen by the state’s interscholastic athletic association and cost an estimated $50,000 in its first year, would test 5 percent of those 10,000, or 500 students.
Across the country, more than 50 school districts have received U.S. Department of Education grants this year to establish and fund random drug testing of students involved in extracurricular activities. That’s up from just eight districts in 2003.
The interest is fueled by fear and statistics:
A Monitoring the Future survey, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, reported in 2004 that 1.9 percent of 8th graders, 2.4 percent of 10th graders and 3.4 percent of 12th graders had admitted using steroids at some time. Codey cited larger numbers when he announced his statewide order: a rise in steroid use from 3 percent in 1995 to 5 percent in 2001.
Those percentages may sound small until one considers the big picture. The total number of high school students in the country exceeds 16 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In California alone, there are almost 1.7 million high school students; more than 700,000 participate in athletics where steroid abuse is deemed most likely to occur. Three percent of 700,000 is 21,000.
Of course, no one’s suggesting 21,000 students in California are abusing steroids. In fact, no one really knows how many students use steroids. Drug testing is one way to find out and, say advocates, do something about it. But given the enormous complexities and sensitivities of the subject, it may be easier to hit a major-league home run than devise an effective, affordable and broadly acceptable school-based drug-testing program.
Reprinted with the permission of the American Association of School Administrators. © AASA
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