By Jessica Farrish
By a 3-2 vote the Raleigh County Board of Education voted down a proposed student drug-testing policy at its regular meeting Tuesday evening.
BOE President Rick Snuffer and BOE member Richard Jarrell had been expected for weeks to vote in favor of the policy, and they did.
The two known dissenters, BOE members Cynthia Jafary and Sally Susman, voted against the policy.
BOE member Larry Ford cast the deciding vote against the policy, which would have required students involved in extracurricular activities and those who drive to school to submit to random drug testing.
Ford said prior to the vote that he would vote his conscience.
“We all know we have a problem here,” he said, adding that he hoped the result would enact the best strategy for addressing student drug abuse.
Several teachers who were present clapped when the vote was taken, but a local businessman said it was “a sad day for students.”
In discussion prior to the vote, Jafary claimed that school officials will be unable to keep test results from local law enforcement and other agencies who require it under current legislation.
She recommended using the money on a research-based program.
“Nobody on this board is qualified by experience, education or training to decide when a drug test should be administered to a child,” she said.
She said that children who take Ritalin will fail a drug test performed by non-medical professionals, even if they need the Ritalin.
“Only testing ... done by a medical provider will tell you that information,” she said.
“Whether the vote is up, or the vote is down, we will have unity on this board when we leave,” said Jarrell, a proponent of the policy.
Susman called the policy “ridiculous” and “an exercise in futility” and said she would not vote in favor of it since it had yet been proven as Constitutional.
Snuffer said before the vote that he believes everyone on both sides care about kids, including Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce members and members of the West Virginia Education Association, despite their differing views on the testing policy.
Voting for the policy, he said it isn’t perfect, but he likened it to seatbelt legislation: If you know you can get a ticket, you’ll put on your seatbelt.
“I think the policy deserves a year test-drive to see if it helps,” he said.
Jarrell had urged his fellow BOE members to “give it a year, if it doesn’t work ... we’ll scrap it.”
Jarrell also admitted frankly to having smoked marijuana when he was younger and said that he wants to give kids a “reason and opportunity to say no because peer pressure is so strong on them.
“It was on me,” he added.
BOE members made comments following a lengthy discussion period, in which they heard from doctors, teachers, coaches, a fire chief and local business owners.
Raleigh Schools Teacher of the Year Natalie Coots told BOE members that her son is hers, not the property of the local business community or the school system.
“I’ve heard people talk about ‘attitude changers,’” she said. “I am the attitude changer at my house.
“My child is mine and my husband’s; he’s one of the few things we own outright,” she joked.
Turning serious, Coots added, “He is not a business opportunity. He is not a photo op. He is not a pad for someone’s resume; he is not a springboard for someone’s political ambition.”
Coots praised Superintendent Jim Brown for his tolerance of both views of the issue.
Leon Brush, who operates Brian’s Safehouse, a residential drug treatment facility for men that is named in honor of his son, Brian, who died of a drug overdose, said that in his experience, addicts who are getting help appreciate a drug test because it gives them an incentive to stay sober.
When a student fails the first drug test, it can alert parents that their child is involved with drugs, said Brush.
“Addictions do not announce their arrival,” he said. “When they show up, they’re quite a surprise.
“Not one addict ever planned to become one,” said Brush. “In most cases it started out with planning to have fun, doing something edgy ... as a parent and perhaps even parents of other children who have overdosed would agree ... that if our son had come home testing positive for drug use, it would’ve been an eye-opening moment for our family.”
Medical professionals who testified were mixed in their opinions.
Dr. Hassan Jafary, a certified medical review officer and chief of medicine at Beckley-Appalachian Regional Hospital, said that in his professional opinion, the school system cannot provide a standard of drug testing that is federally recognized.
“Right from the beginning, to the person collecting, has to be certified,” said Jafary. “This policy does not meet that standard.
“It does not provide a forensic analysis, and does not have a certified process, and does not provide a due process.”
He said that under the policy as written, there are no checks and balances to protect students against a “false positive.”
“One example of potential liability is a poppy seed can cause a positive test,” he said. “There is no checks and balances in this policy of how they will address it.
“It will falsely accuse your child.”
Dr. Andrew Thymius, who specializes in pain management, supported the policy.
He said it is unclear that counseling would deter drug use, since health counseling in schools has not deterred unprotected sex nor decreased teen pregnancy rates.
Nick Jafary, a local psychiatrist who worked in the Bronx, N.Y., and now works in Beckley treating drug addictions, said the policy will create situations in which kids do not want to return to school because they are embarrassed at failing the test.
“How many kids will ask for homebound?” he asked.
He added that the policy does not address treatment for those who test positive.
“You cannot treat the patient until the patient wants to do it,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a five-year-old kid, your own kid, or a 55-year-old man.”
Scott Long, a critical care nurse, said that studies show random drug testing does not decrease use of illegal drugs.
Speaker John Johnson also opposed the policy.
“It’s amazing that we’re suddenly profiling people in West Virginia,” he said.
“And that’s what you’re doing,” he shot at BOE members. “It’s wrong.
“This program y’all have laid out has so many gaps and is so unclear, it’s almost scary,” he said. “Who’s going to monitor this program?”
Most Beckley-Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce members who testified supported the measure, including board of directors chairman Victor Flanagan.
“It gives our kids a reason to say no to peer pressure,” he said. “Two, it moves this county in a direction of a better educated and drug-free work force.”
Flanagan pointed out that identical policies had proven effective and been found Constitutional by the Supreme Court.
“We recognize that implementing this policy is not the end all,” he added. “Just one step in the right direction of providing our kids with a better school environment.”
Rhodell Volunteer Fire Department Fire Chief Mike Holhouser told BOE members that his son, a volunteer junior firefighter, takes pain medicine and drives to school.
He said the policy targets kids who are “trying to do good for the community.”
Holhouser said that the policy doesn’t address laws which require educators to report any crime, including drug use, to the police and to the Department of Health and Human Resources.
Wendy Peters, co-president of Raleigh County Education Association, said she believed chamber of commerce members were treating the issue as a “business decision.”
“It has nothing to do with our children,” she said. “If they can hire a child from Raleigh County schools who are subject to drug tests ... they can save a lot of money on drug testing.”
She pointed out that some business owners at the meeting didn’t drug test their own employees.
“It would be much cheaper to use education money,” said Peters. “Why would they pay to drug test their own employees when they can get taxpayers to do it at the school’s expense?”
“We thank you that you are having to make a very tough decision tonight in front of a lot of people,” said United Way Executive Director Margaret Ann O’Neal, who supported the policy.
Dr. Jerry Forster, regional president for the University of Charleston- Beckley, pointed out that over 90 percent of Division I schools like WVU and Marshall have developed similar drug policies, which are also used by many other NCAA schools.
Retired WWHS Girls Basketball Coach Bernard Bostick urged passage, saying he’s seen the damage drugs can do, from examples in his own family to a student killing another student, to student athletes who burn themselves out using drugs.
Parents are not always the answer, he said.
“The majority of parents, they don’t care,” said Bostick. “I’ve seen too much.
“Once they turn 18, there’s nothing you can do for them,” he said. “They’re on their own completely.”
Marie Hamrick, co-president of the Raleigh County Education Association and a vocal opponent of the proposed policy, urged that it not be passed.
She cited studies that showed drug testing of students is not effective.
“There’s not one person in this room that doesn’t want better for our kids, or don’t want our kids to use drugs,” she said. “There’s just got to be a better way to go about that end.
“This policy is just plain bad medicine,” said Hamrick. She added that medical professionals were the experts, not local business owners.
“It’s a uniting issue that everyone here cares about students,” said BOE President Rick Snuffer. “I appreciate everybody, and your time tonight.”
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