By Rusty Carter, The Virginia Gazette
Published: May 25, 2005
WILLIAMSBURG -- Drug prevention is so high on the radar screen that the White House is watching how a local initiative plays out.
The Historic Triangle Substance Abuse Coalition is hosting a town hall Wednesday night about the pros and cons of testing student athletes. A press conference has been scheduled to draw more attention, and a dozen students were planning a pro-testing picket.
The WJC School Board has heard two presentations on drug testing but has deferred voting until after the forum.
Local parent Dee McHenry, who helped organize a parental task force seeking testing for high school athletes, recently called the Office of National Drug Control Policy to request one of two booklets on student drug testing the agency publishes.
“I'd never actually talked to anyone there before,” McHenry said Tuesday. “But when they heard it was Williamsburg, they said they were very aware of our efforts and their drug czar [John P. Walters] wanted to know how it turns out.”
More promotion came from Dr. Andrea Barthwell, herself a former deputy drug czar who now works on the local level in Chicago against marijuana usage. She helped defeat an Illinois bill to legalize marijuana.
Barthwell joined the Bush administration in January 2001. When she left in July 2004, she was in charge of “Demand Reduction,” which included prevention and intervention.
“When I got home, I was confronted by my son's middle school principal because they had found a fifth-grader with marijuana,” Barthwell said. “I had been working on the national level against drugs but hadn't done enough at the local level to protect my own child.”
“The students are asking for it,” Barthwell said. “They're asking for help from responsible adults.”
Barthwell enlisted the help of John Pastuovic, whose Chicago public relations firm specializes in issues promotion. He's sent alerts to local and national media about Wednesday's press conference, including to the networks, cable news and major newspapers.
“There's been lots of interest,” he said. “No commitments until the last minute, but I think they do that to harden my arteries.”
Should the national media turn out, they'll get some visuals to shoot. Students advocating drug testing plan to hold an informational picket outside the library.
“Random student drug testing is a valuable tool that gives students another reason to say no when approached to use drugs,” said Christine Bottles, a junior at Jamestown High.
Pastuovic said the issue appealed to him because he has two young children. “I'd like to see a policy in place so that kids like my own have a good reason to say no if they're offered drugs.
“Random drug testing is important because children become addicted more rapidly than adults, and their recovery is less likely,” said DeForest Rathbone, chairman of National Institute of Citizen Anti-drug Policy, in a news release that will go out Wednesday. “The intent of this program is not to punish students. The goal is to deter kids from using drugs.”
Watchdog groups could see the issue here as a test case for how difficult it is to implement a drug-testing policy at the grassroots. If the effort fails, it could serve as a live manual on what to do differently.
Discussion over drug testing began almost a year ago, and the parent task force pushing for implementation was formed last fall. The group hopes to have testing in place by September, but that's iffy even if the School Board approves the plan in June.
McHenry said she e-mailed numerous national groups looking for information and advice, but she never expected the focus on what's happening here. “What I hope is that it causes the School Board to say ‘This is bigger than Williamsburg.'”
Copyright: 2005 The Virginia Gazette