Coast Union won’t do drug tests

Coast Union High School in Cambria will not do random drug testing as once proposed.

Instead, after discussing the issue at four district board meetings and listening to more than an hour of impassioned public comments Wednesday, the school board decided to take other steps to help curb students’ substance abuse.

Under the new policy, if student athletes and students involved in extracurricular activities are found attending a party where alcohol or drugs are offered, or are caught using on campus, they will be suspended from participating in extracurricular activities.

Students found in violation must pass six weeks of drug tests, which their families must pay for at a cost of up to $30 a week, and attend eight counseling sessions over a two-month period.

The policy change affects only student athletes and others in extracurricular activities.

In July and August, the school board seemed to lean toward having Coast Unified School District be the fourth school system in San Luis Obispo County to use drug testing as an enforcement tool, joining Paso Robles, Templeton and Shandon.

The initial Cambria plan would have tested athletes and students in competitive extracurricular activities.

But the board backed away from that step in September and earlier this week.

According to Healthy Kids Survey statistics presented by Frank Warren, of county Drug and Alcohol Services, Coast’s high school and middle school students have problems with substance abuse, especially alcohol and marijuana.

Sheriff’s Senior Deputy Todd Steeb noted drinking had caused problems at recent football games. He said an 18-year-old “was so intoxicated at the game, she couldn’t walk” and “was so drunk, the jail wouldn’t take her” until doctors examined her.

And two seniors tested positive “for alcohol in their system and each had driven to the school” to see the game, Steeb said.

At Wednesday’s board meeting, parent Gretchen Ross of Cayucos said random drug tests are an “intrusion on my child’s rights,” and “I will not send my children to a school where that is the policy.”

Steve Kniffen said parenting his children was his job, not the school’s, an opinion echoed by several other speakers.

High school senior Faye Watson said she didn’t think the tests would “help my friends who are using” and might discourage them from joining clubs and sports that could help motivate them to quit. “They’re using because they’re bored, and they don’t know how to deal with it.”

She also recommended that administrators give the new policy’s extensive family counseling a chance to help stem use of alcohol and illegal drugs by minors or abuse of prescription medications.

Sue Warren, a high school alumna and substance abuse adviser whose children and grandchildren have been or are students in the district, supported having the random drug tests. She is not related to the county’s Frank Warren.

But this week she said the weeks of testing and counseling mandated under the new policy might be enough to help students.“Get those kids clean enough, long enough, for them to see what they’ve been doing to themselves,” she said. “For God’s sake, give your kids a way out.”

Coast Unified School District includes the Cambria area north along the coast to the Monterey County line and, for high school students, Cayucos. There are currently 237 students at Coast Union High School.

District Superintendent Chris Adams had supported the testing, but he said he’s pleased with the board’s decision. “This is a lot better than it was five or six months ago,” he said. “Counseling for the students and family members is the key.”

Assistant city editor Bert Etling contributed to this report.