Random drug tests of about 1,000 student athletes in Beaufort County public schools this fall produced only 23 positive tests, according to a news release from the Beaufort County School District.
Substances students were tested for include alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, opiates, barbiturates, amphetamines, Valium, Darvon and PCP. But all 23 positive results from the 981 conducted tests were for marijuana use, the release said. They were the first positive tests under the school district's new random drug testing program, which was rolled out at the start of the 2015-16 school year.
All 23 students who failed their tests have been enrolled by their families in drug counseling and treatment programs in accordance with the school board's outlined consequences for a positive test.
The results are the public's first look at the district's controversial drug-testing program. District leaders refused to reveal the number of students who tested positive in October and November following its first two cycles of drug tests.
Beaufort County School District spokesman Jim Foster said Friday it was because so few students tested positive that district leaders feared the students could be identified -- a violation of federal privacy laws.
Later test groups drew from a larger pool of athletes as more sports started their seasons, making the likelihood of identification less likely, said the district's Chief Auxiliary Officer Gregory McCord.
The small number of positive results is in line with what the district's testing company's prediction that between 2 and 10 percent would be positive.
The number of tests administered at each school depended on the number of students who participated in athletics in 2014-2015.
Some schools, such as Bluffton High, currently give far more tests than others. Whale Branch High, which has a fewer number of athletes, only administered about 30 drug tests per month, according to data provided by the school district in October.
But the number of students tested -- and the number of positive tests -- is expected to increase.
At the start of next school year, the testing program will expand to include students participating in extracurricular activities. Students who park on campus will begin to be tested in August 2017.
Students who fail to enroll in a treatment program within 10 days of a positive drug test will be banned from participating in outside activities and parking on campus.
Dropping out of the counseling program would also result in the student becoming ineligible for the affected extracurricular activities. Students who test positive are subject to a mandatory second test within 90 days.
For a second positive result, the student must meet stricter conditions, including a second assessment by a substance abuse professional and the completion of a treatment and counseling program.
No students tested positive a third time in the first rounds of testing. If a student did, they would be ineligible for the affected activities for a calendar year, with no way to become eligible during that span. Students would have to complete a treatment program and pass a mandatory second test to regain eligibility after sitting out the year.
Moving forward, the school district plans to test at least 50 percent of eligible students at each high school each year. The program is expected to cost less than $50,000 per year, the release said.
McCord said the school district is working to educate students about drug and alcohol use leading up to the program's expansion. And he's optimistic that the number of positive results will remain low.
"We're doing our best to educate students and we're hopeful the numbers remain low, but we won't know what were dealing with until the tests start," he said.
Follow reporter Matt McNab on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.