The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

June 28, 2013

Raleigh County Board of Education members react to drug policy decision

By Jessica Farrish
Register-Herald Reporter

BECKLEY — With a proposed student drug testing policy rejected Tuesday by a 3-2 vote, members of the Raleigh County Board of Education are looking at the next step in getting a handle on drug problems.

For months, they had heard arguments for and against the proposal, which would have mandated that students involved in extracurricular activities and those who drive to school would have to submit to random drug tests.

BOE member Larry Ford, a local businessman and philanthropist, cast the deciding vote against the policy.

Prior to the meeting, Ford had not made his views of the policy public. But Thursday, he told The Register-Herald that he made his decision based on his own research, which showed random drug testing did not curb student drug use.

He also considered recommendations of teachers, testimony by doctors and community members who had told him they didn’t favor it.

“I was really worried about the confidentiality,” he said, adding that social networking sites and sites like Topix are a concern for students now. “If somebody fails a test, and they don’t show up for a game ... somebody says he failed the test.

“It goes viral.”

Ford said he respects the concern the community shows for solving the drug problem and wants it to be addressed, although not with a random drug testing policy.

“What we need to do is get people from the businesses, counselors, physicians that have to deal with the drug problems, to help us try to put something together to try to take into the schools,” he said. “That’s my mission.”

Member Cynthia Jafary, who publicly opposed the policy prior to the vote, said the policy wouldn’t have stopped drug use among students.

“My concern all along has been that we need to pass (policies) from a prevention standpoint,” said Jafary. “I have concerns with drug testing because of the effectiveness of a program like that, and the legalities to the school board.”

She said many parents wanted to decide if their children would be drug-tested and did not want school officials making the decision.

She added that policies focusing on prevention need to be introduced in the schools, as opposed to a testing program.

“We need to start education about drugs and drug abuse much earlier and more consistently than we currently do,” she said. “There are some really great prevention plans out there that deal with life skills, and they teach you to handle situations you would come across when you’d be exposed to drugs in a peer situation or a home situation.

“We’re missing that piece of the puzzle when we teach our kids about drugs.”

BOE member Sally Susman, who also voted against the policy, said she doesn’t expect the policy to be re-submitted for consideration in the future.

“I don’t think it can go anywhere,” she said. “I never liked it because we have to pay for all that.

“We don’t have the money, and we don’t even truly know if it would pass constitutional muster. It’s not been proven constitutional yet.”

Susman added that she was uncomfortable with the idea of adult strangers taking forced urine samples from randomly selected children, without identifiable criteria that testing was necessary.

Susman encouraged Beckley-Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce members, many of whom spoke in support of the policy, to use private money to develop out-of-school programs for concerned parents who want to have their children drug-tested.

“We can’t pay for it, but the chamber — maybe they could,” said Susman, who was once a BRCCC member. “They’re very conscious of being good citizens, and there’s a lot of money represented there.

“Maybe they can work out something to raise the money to do it.”

Rick Snuffer, a supporter of the policy, said he also doesn’t expect a similar policy to be re-introduced.

“The administration spent a lot of time and energy on this policy, so I’m not ready to tell them to start working on a new policy, when it’s apparent three board members aren’t interested,” Snuffer said.

He added that a possible policy for the future would be one that focuses on counseling, although he is unsure that a $50,000 grant pledged to the BOE by The Carter Family Foundation if the policy passed will possibly be unavailable now.

“That’s $50,000 we might not have,” he said.

Snuffer said he’s moving forward to other items such as  the iPad initiative now in Raleigh schools, a possible bond and upcoming levy.

Richard Jarrell, the BOE member who vocalized support for the policy, emphasized that he wanted to set the stage for unity in the community and on the board. He said he still is convinced that the drug problem among students must be addressed in some fashion.

“I heard people saying they weren’t opposed to drug testing, but I’m not sure what that really means,” Jarrell said. “So we will have to see where we can go.

“But we have to do something more than telling them, ‘You shouldn’t do that.’”

Board President Richard Snuffer, who also was in favor of the policy, could not be reached for comment.

— E-mail: jfarrish@register-herald.com