Georgetown district to resume student drug testing program

This fall, the Georgetown school district will resume drug testing students who participate in extracurricular activities.

School officials said restoring the program, one of the first to get axed in tough financial times in 2011, was important because it gives students who could be randomly tested one more reason to say no.

“This is just one part of our district’s overall effort to teach kids about the dangers of illicit drugs,” said Superintendent Joe Dan Lee. “Our education efforts begin in elementary school and are reinforced until the time a student graduates.”

Drug testing costs vary, depending on the type of tests administered and their frequency. In Georgetown, costs amount to approximately $17 per student, if each student is tested once, and other districts have paid about $25 per student. Districts have reported relatively few positive tests, leading some to question whether it is worth the expense, but proponents say such programs are worth it if even one student is deterred from using.

The Georgetown district began its drug testing program in 2006, but discontinued it after the state made $4 billion in funding cuts to public education in two years.

The Legislature recently restored $3.4 billion, prompting districts across the state to reinstate programs and personnel previously cut. Georgetown will get $1.8 million of the $7.2 million cut.

Georgetown joins San Marcos in reinstating student drug testing. Last year, San Marcos brought back its program after coaches and community members told the athletic director that student drug use had increased after the district discontinued the program. Bastrop, which had a program since 1997, in the past couple of years also discontinued its program because of state budget cuts to public education.

While the majority of Central Texas school districts, including Austin and Round Rock, don’t have drug testing programs, a few other districts have adopted them. The Leander school district has had a voluntary student drug testing program since 1999 in which parents must opt in to have their children tested. Elgin began random drug testing in 2010 for middle and high school students in extracurricular activities.

This year, Georgetown will scale back its program and test only students in high school. The district has budgeted $50,000 of its $81.8 million budget for the program. Approximately 3,400 students could be affected. In previous years, the district spent $175,000, but also included middle school students in extracurricular activities for the tests, and also tested students more frequently.

In the 2010-11 school year, the last time the district tested students, there were eight test positives out of 3,000 tested.

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