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School Board considers drug testing for athletes

Whether the U.S. Supreme Court decision last week to allow random drug testing of public school athletes will lead to such a policy in Hernando County is not certain, but it is something the School Board will consider, says Chairman Jim Malcolm.

"It won't be anytime soon, but I'm sure we'll be looking into it," Malcolm said. "We've got several other things we need to do this summer, but I'm sure we'll be talking about it in the fall."

Malcolm did not dismiss the possibility that the Hernando school district might consider some kind of drug testing in high schools and middle schools. But he said that, to his knowledge, illicit drug use by student athletes is not a problem in the county.

"In my experience, I've never heard it to be a problem," said Malcolm, who has been on the School Board for 2{ years. "I really haven't had a chance to give the issue a lot of thought yet but we'll all be going over it."

School Board members John Druzbick and Stephen Galaydick agreed with Malcolm that they have not heard of any serious drug problems in the county's high school or middle school athletic programs). However, they agreed that testing is something the board should at least consider.

"It's too early to tell anything right now," Galaydick said. "We'll need to have our lawyer go over it and recommend what our course of action should be."

Druzbick said he was of two minds on the subject: While testing could be a useful tool, he said, he was uncomfortable with the potential invasion of students' privacy.

His solution: "I would suggest that we have forms for the parents to sign to allow their kids to be tested. That way they make the decision. But I'd have to see how the other board members felt about that."

Malcolm, for one, said he thought Druzbick's idea was good and probably would be one of the avenues the board might consider.

In neighboring Citrus County, Superintendent Jim Hughes said instituting a drug-testing policy was something his district would look into carefully. Pasco County school officials have said they do not expect to institute such a policy. Pasco Assistant Superintendent John Long said he and Superintendent Thomas Weightman have discussed the topic, and they do not see a need for it.

Hernando County currently does not have a permanent superintendent, and the interim superintendent, Don Brown, is not a candidate for the job the School Board hopes to fill later this month.

Elaine Sullivan, principal at Hernando High School in Brooksville, said that "at this point, I'm not interested in doing random drug testing at Hernando High. If I felt that there was a major drug problem with those students, then I would be in favor of it."

However, she said, "I deal with some students now for alcohol and for (chewing) tobacco, and I wouldn't blink twice at doing it for drugs."

Sullivan said that it is her understanding that the Florida High School Activities Association will consider instituting drug testing for athletes involved in post-season play, and that she would support that policy.

She also agreed with the Supreme Court that athletes have a reduced expectation of privacy: "I think that athletics are a privilege, and it doesn't bother me that there's a higher standard."

The Supreme Court's 6-3 decision upheld a testing program instituted in 1989 by a school district in Oregon. That testing program covers amphetamines, marijuana, cocaine and LSD, but not alcohol or steroids.

Rowen Suarez, a standout track and field athlete who will enter his senior year at Springstead High School in the fall, said he considers steroids the main concern among athletes.

"I've run against so many people that you just know are on steroids," Suarez said. "There is a big drug problem out there, and I think there's a certain standard that athletes should live up to. If someone gets caught, have some leeway and take each case one by one, and do what's best for each person."

Wayne Miller, the girls basketball coach at Central High School, west of Brooksville, also felt drug testing is necessary.

"In this day and age, I think it's come to the point where we have to do it, that it really is in the best interest of the kids," he said. "I don't think it should be used just to weed a few kids out of school or off a team, though. If someone's in trouble, we should do something about it, and not just wash our hands of the problem."

_ Correspondent Thomas White contributed to this report.