Keys high schools will start drug testing of student athletes, cheerleaders and others

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The Monroe County School Board is expected Tuesday to reinstate random drug testing of high school athletes, cheerleaders and band members, a policy that has been on hold since Hurricane Irma hit the Florida Keys last fall.

The new measure, which would test for drugs such as marijuana, cocaine and amphetamines, would go into effect for the 2018-19 school year, if the board approves the new policy Tuesday.

The board had planned to begin the program this school year, but with the disruptions after the storm, administrators held off. The board had scrapped the program in 2014 amid privacy concerns of students and parents.

There is no change in the policy, except for the school year in which it will take effect.

“We’re just changing the dates,” said board member Andy Griffiths.

“It’s a trial run,” said Bobby Highsmith, school board chairman. “We’ll do it for one year and see if it’s working as a deterrent.”

Highsmith at first wasn’t a fan of the program, saying it unfairly targeted athletes as if they were more likely to use illegal drugs, but he came around when the board added band members, cheerleaders and the Conchettes drill team.

“Personally, I remain philosophically opposed to it,” Highsmith said.

School board members will vote on the drug-testing policy at their meeting Tuesday at Marathon Middle High School. They will first discuss the measure at a workshop that begins at 3 p.m. and then take a vote during the regular meeting, which starts at 5 p.m.

Endorsed by the principals and athletic directors of the three main public Keys high schools, the policy is meant to help students with intervention, not punish them, administrators said.

The new policy even has a page devoted to an exception in the case of a “shy bladder.” If a student is unable to produce a urine sample on demand, the policy states the student will have a “reasonable amount of fluid” to drink for up to one hour. If all else fails, the student will be allowed to return to class and provide a sample at the end of the day.

A positive test results in a 10-day suspension from participation in the extracurricular activity and a second positive test means a 30-day suspension. On the third positive test, the student is banned from participation for the rest of the school year.

Superintendent Mark Porter ended drug testing on high school athletes in 2014 after a parent complained about her teenage daughter being pulled from class and taken to a drug-court facility without parental consent.

The policy was retooled to ensure that urine tests will be done at schools, not the local drug court center that handles probationers.

By comparison, Miami-Dade County Public Schools don’t drug test any students.

“However, students who are suspected to be in possession of drugs may have their parents called to the school site,” said Miami-Dade Schools spokeswoman Jackie Calzadilla.


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