The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

May 15, 2013

School drug policy up for comment

By Jessica Farrish
Register-Herald Reporter

BECKLEY — A drug policy proposed for Raleigh County students was placed on a 30-day comment period at the monthly meeting of the Raleigh County Board of Education.

If approved, the policy will mandate that every student in grades 6-12 who wants to participate in school-related competitive activities, including academic activities, or drive to school and park on the property, to submit to random drug testing.

The sole speaker during a discussion on the proposed policy, Raleigh County Education Association Co-President Marie Hamrick, opposed it.

“This sort of policy is nothing more than a media-attention-grabbing program, which may play well with certain groups of the public,” said Hamrick. “There is no research-based data that shows such drug testing prevents or reduces the drug use among students.”

Citing research conducted in August 2011 by the Annenburg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, Hamrick said that similar policies only reduced drug use in schools with a “very good climate.” In those schools, Hamrick said, the research showed that the intervention had a protective influence on adolescent girls. “It seems the key to less drug use is a good school climate,” said Hamrick. “School systems should consider ways to improve their school climate before embarking on drug testing. Research does show that schools with good climates have less drug use.”

She said the policy’s purpose could be met by using the projected cost of implementation to employ social workers and drug prevention counselors at each county high school.

“To target student athletes and those driving to school … seems to be just having a ‘we’re on the bandwagon’ policy which will gain no real results or improvement on student drug testing,” she said. “And who does it target? For lack of a better descriptive, the ‘better’ kids … that have to keep the grades up to participate in sports and the kids whose parents have granted them permission and the vehicle to drive to school.

“My guess would be that there are requirements from the parents for the privilege of driving to school.”

Another concern is that of a student getting a “false positive” on a test, she added. Hamrick said research showed false positives to be “a valid concern.” The currently proposed guideline is that a second test will be performed after a positive result, and the cost of the two tests will be free of charge.

“If the parent wants further testing to contest a positive reading, then the parent is responsible for the cost,” Hamrick said. “Just because your child chose to play sports or drive to school, you as a parent will be required to assume the cost of additional testing past the two paid for by Raleigh County, if you wish to grieve the questionable results.”

At an earlier board meeting, board member Cynthia Jafary had expressed concerns about false positives. Jafary had also remarked “there is no better drug test than a caring adult who has their eyes open.

“You are taking the risk of handing out blinders to parents and they will stop looking for signs of abuse,” Jafary said, referring to the proposed policy.

Under the policy, parents sign a consent form that their kids may be randomly selected for a urine test. The names of students who participate in extracurricular activities or drive to school will be placed on a list, and names will be chosen at random by an independent drug testing company. The cost of the program would be between $130,000 to $150,000 annually and includes the testing and salary of someone to oversee drug prevention, intervention and support in the county.

Students who refuse to submit to a test under the proposed policy will not be eligible to participate in the activities for one calendar year; and, the student will not be considered for any interscholastic activity honors or awards given by the district. BOE President Richard Snuffer said the goal of the policy is prevention.

“The reason students who drive to school and participate in extracurricular activities are covered by the policy is because going to school is a right, but extracurricular participation and driving to school are privileges,” Snuffer said.

Consequences for a positive drug test include showing that the student is receiving drug counseling in order to continue participating in the school activity, suspension from the activity and additional drug screenings.

In other actions, board members approved the 2013-2014 academic calendar. School for students starts Aug. 15 and will end between May 22, 2014 and June 5, 2014. Traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks are observed, while spring break will occur the week prior to Easter, Superintendent Jim Brown said. School begins Aug. 12 for teachers.

Board member Richard Jarrell remarked that the calendar was altered for the upcoming year by adjusting the number of days in the first trimester to end at winter break. Finals will not be looming over Christmas break under the new calendar, he said.

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To review the proposed policy, go to the Raleigh County Schools website at http://www.edline.net/pages/Raleigh_CSD

Look for the link titled “Revised Policy D.2.11 on additional 30-day comment” under the News category.