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Louisiana District To Test Athletes for Drug Use

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Beginning in mid-December, students at two Louisiana high schools will be required to submit to drug testing before they can participate in athletics.

The policy is believed by officials to be the first of its kind in the state.

The Saint James Parish school board this month approved the suggestion made by coaches and athletic directors in the district that athletes be required to submit to a urinalysis to determine whether they use illicit drugs before participating in sports, according to Richard Turnipseed, administrator for secondary education.

"We don't feel that we have a problem with drugs," said Mr. Turnipseed. The coaches recommended that testing be instituted, he said, on the grounds that similar efforts were being made in professional and collegiate athletics.

"The primary purpose is to protect our athletes as well as those on opposing teams" from drug-related accidents, Mr. Turnipseed added.

The district's policy singles out athletes because officials believe they are on safe legal ground in requiring the tests for health and safety reasons, according to John D. Boughton, principal of Saint James High School, one of the two schools affected.

"Athletes' motor skills are not functioning as well when they are under the influence of drugs," he said.

The first testing will include all of the district's high-school athletes4except seniors graduating in June, according to Mr. Turnipseed.

After the program is implemented, the urinalysis testing will be conducted at district expense when students take the physical examination required for participation in athletics by the Louisiana High School Athletic Association.

Parental permission will be required for the testing. If parents withhold their permission, the student will be barred from participating in team sports, Mr. Turnipseed said.

In the event test results are positive, a student's parents will be informed and counseling will be recommended, Mr. Turnipseed said.

A second positive test will result in a suspension from games and practice, and a third will bar the student from athletics for the entire year.

The schools will not release the results of their testing to the police, thus safeguarding students' privacy rights, Mr. Turnipseed said.

The official said he had heard of no opposition to the plan from students or others in the community.

Related Developments

Officials of the Arkadelphia, Ark., school district have decided not to appeal a district-court ruling that prohibits them from requiring students suspected of being under the influence of drugs to undergo a urinalysis, according to Kathy A. Kline, drug-abuse-prevention coordinator for the district.

In what is believed to be the first ruling on the legality of requiring students to submit to drug-testing, U.S. District Judge Franklin Waters found the test "intrusive" and ruled that it violated students' due-process rights.

Ms. Kline said the ruling did not affect the district's policy of requesting parental permission to test a student when officials have evidence of drug use. Although the court's decision rules out urinalysis, she said, the district's policy also permits blood, breathalyzer, and polygraph testing with parental permission.

But Sandra Kurjiaka, executive director of the Arkansas branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the court's ruling would prohibit any testing unless the district had already amassed so much evidence against a student that the tests would be unnecessary.

Court arguments have been completed and a decision is expected soon in a Bergen County, N.J., lawsuit in which students represented by the aclu are challenging the school district's policy of including tests for 12 types of drugs and alcohol as part of each student's annual physical examination.

Lawyers for the New York aclu are expected to decide by early next week whether or not they will seek a temporary injunction against a policy adopted last month by the school board of the Phelps-Clifton Springs school district that calls for random urine testing of students on a "voluntary" basis, according to David Moss, a spokesman for Statewide Youth Advocacy Inc., a nonprofit group that has joined the aclu's challenge.

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