The results of random student drug testing in central Lexington County schools should comfort most parents, students and teachers, but the findings may not tell the whole story.
Athletes, along with students who drive to school, were subjected to random drug tests last school year at Lexington, River Bluff, White Knoll, Gilbert and Pelion high schools in Lexington 1. All athletes at seven middle schools that feed into those high schools also were tested.
The result: Only 4 of the 1,048 students tested failed. That’s a pass rate of 99.6 percent. All four of those who failed eventually passed the test, including three who lost parking privileges for 14 days.
Lexington 1 declined to disclose the specific substance found in the four students’ samples and the schools the students attended, saying that is confidential.
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The drug tests, which continue this school year, are part of an emphasis on healthy lifestyles for the 26,300 students in Lexington 1’s 30 schools.
“Random drug testing in and of itself is not a comprehensive solution,” Superintendent Greg Little said. “It is just one of the many strategies we employ to help our students make good decisions.”
Under the program, students are summoned out of a classroom for an unspecified purpose. School nurses collect samples through mouth swabs, which are sent to a laboratory that checks for illegal narcotics such as marijuana. Each test costs $35.
The number of Lexington 1 students failing the test is “extremely low” when compared to surveys of young people in South Carolina, according to Jimmy Mount, spokesman for the state Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services.
The most recent statewide survey, conducted two years ago, showed that 9 percent of young people aged 12 to 20 said they had used an illicit drug in the previous month.
Part of the discrepancy can be attributed to who is tested. Students who drive to school often are “highly motivated to keep clean” because they are involved in after-school activities that require travel flexibility, Mount said.
Also, Lexington 1 doesn’t test for what state officials consider the two main sources of substance abuse among teenagers – tobacco and alcohol, Mount said.
A statewide survey separate from the one on illicit drugs found that 55.8 percent of South Carolina high school students said they had consumed an alcoholic drink and 29.1 percent smoked or chewed tobacco in the previous month.
Lexington 1 is the first Columbia-area district to test students who park vehicles on campus.
State education officials don’t keep track of how many of the state’s 82 districts have similar programs. Only Beaufort County in the Lowcountry is known to do it.
The tests in Lexington 1 cost $41,000 last school year, but $62,000 was allotted this year because of increased enrollment. The district’s goal is to test a quarter of the eligible students.
Lexington 1 has no plans to expand the tests to other student groups, spokeswoman Mary Beth Hill said.
Officials at the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union could not be reached for comment on the results. A year ago, ACLU officials said they were concerned the tests could lead to profiling students thought more likely to use drugs because of race, sex or ethnicity.
Tim Flach: 803-771-8483
What the tests measure
Lexington 1’s drug testing program seeks to detect:
Marijuana, opiates, cocaine, methamphetamines, phencyclidine (PCP), MDMA (Ecstasy), unauthorized prescription medication such as barbiutuates, tranquilizers and oxycodone along with all other substances defined as illegal by state or federal authorities.