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Answer to curb teen drug use is out there

As School Board members criticized the superintendent's proposal to start drug testing Citrus County's student athletes last week, member Lou Miele stated, "There has to be better ways to curb drug use in our school."

There are, and the board and the administration should get busy and focus on those successful methods and programs. Just because the board has rejected the testing idea does not mean that students' use of drugs and alcohol has in any way abated.

In her push for the testing program, superintendent Sandra "Sam'' Himmel cited various student surveys that showed an alarming number of students admitted to using drugs and alcohol on a regular basis. Many acknowledged that they went to classes under the influence, meaning in some cases they drove to school in that condition, endangering themselves and others.

Even if one discounts these surveys to some extent, factoring in the propensity for some teens to be wiseguys when filling out such questionnaires, the results mirror the anecdotal evidence readily available from the teachers, staffers and students themselves about the level of drug and alcohol abuse taking place among our youngsters.

The problem is real and demands attention.

Troubled by various aspects of the federal grant that would have paid for the testing, as well as legitimate concerns about whether the school system should take such an intrusive step into students' lives, the board members overwhelmingly spoke out against the proposal during their workshop.

Seeing which way the wind was blowing, Himmel wisely withdrew the proposal from consideration. That was the best course because the plan, while well-intentioned, had too many flaws.

Confidentiality of students who would have been surveyed as part of the grant's goal of measuring drug use could not be guaranteed.

Opponents complained that athletes were being singled out for testing that would have forced them to prove their innocence. Others raised questions about the tests' effectiveness for measuring substances like alcohol, which do not stay in the body very long. Still others decried the assault on students' civil liberties.

The many counter-arguments focused on the single point that anything that can be done to keep children alive is worth pursuing.

Perhaps the most compelling comment came from a longtime high school coach at a School Board meeting who said he has been to too many funerals for teens over the years.

Some have questioned why the school district would even consider stepping into an area that should be left to parents. The fact is, they are already there.

The school system is expected to teach children everything from math to table manners, from reading to personal responsibility. Issues such as drug testing would not even be discussed if more parents took their own obligations more seriously.

For years, the district has offered programs in conjunction with the Sheriff's Office, including D.A.R.E. and F.O.C.U.S. Numerous groups such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes have encouraged students to lead better lives. Health classes have stressed clean living. The message is hammered home at every possible opportunity.

Still, the problem remains as strong as ever.

Citrus County is hardly the only place in the United States dealing with teenage alcohol and drug abuse, and there must be programs in use elsewhere that have proved to be effective without the concerns that accompanied the drug-testing plan. The district should find out about them and not just forget about the problem because the drug-testing plan has died.

It is not enough just to say no to a bad idea without offering a better alternative. The results of turning a blind eye to this serious problem are there for all to see.