By Carl “Butch” Antolini
When the Raleigh County Board of Education meets next month to decide on a proposed random drug testing policy for students who participate in extracurricular activities, it is expected that the vote will clearly be split.
Four of the five members have made it all but clear how they are going to vote; a fifth says he is still weighing all the options.
Cindy Jafary and Sally Susman say they are opposed to the measure for a number of reasons including a desire to see funds spent on hiring additional personnel to serve as counselors and intervention specialists for kids with substance abuse problems.
“When we identify at-risk kids and they are referred, we really aren’t doing anything with that information as far as intervention is concerned,” Jafary said.
Jafary said the $147,000 that has been earmarked in the budget for student drug testing could be used to hire at least three additional school counselors.
“Seven Local School Improvement Councils submitted requests for counselors. This money could go a long way toward hiring them.”
Noting that her physician husband runs a Beckley clinic that administers numerous drug tests, Jafary said she also has a real concern for “students being labeled” if they take a test and it returns “a false positive” result.
“The validity of the testing causes me great concern because they can be wrong.”
She went on to say that if a second test comes back positive as well, if a parent wants to further question the results by having an additional screening, it would have to be at the parent’s own expense.
Jafary also said that numerous studies she has researched place the “probability of detection at close to zero” and predicted that students were also smart enough to figure when they could or could not abuse substances, or various ways to mask the results, so they would not be detectable.
“The research says these drug tests are not preventative, and it doesn’t change kids’ attitudes,” Jafary added. “The kids that come out of these programs, the intention (to abuse substances) is the same or higher.”
As for the consequences, should students fail the tests, they are set up for four hours of counseling each time, up to three tests and 12 hours.
“For those that truly have an addiction problem, counseling and treatment is very costly, very time-intensive, and it is a lifelong condition. Twelve hours just isn’t going to resolve it.
“Some may go into remission, but they don’t recover from it.”
Susman said she has had conversations with West Virginia House of Delegates member Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, whose husband, Bob Bastress, is a lawyer who specializes in constitutional issues, and she believes that the policy is unconstitutional.
“I think it violates the children’s constitutional rights,” said Susman.
When asked how similar policies currently in effect in other West Virginia counties were operating without that question being raised, Susman replied “it just hasn’t been challenged yet.”
Board president Richard Snuffer and board member Richard Jarrell appear to be strongly in favor of giving the program a try.
“I think I have made up my mind but I will reserve it for when I vote,” Snuffer said. “But as you look at it, doing nothing is not the answer. Other school systems have done this with mixed results and we’ve tried to fine tune this policy to put in place a program that will act as a deterrent.
“Some have asked why we don’t test all students. Well, the answer is simple: The law won’t let us.”
Snuffer says the new policy, if adopted, will give “students an out to say no” to abusing various substances.
He added that the situation also reaches across the spectrum and is not limited to any particular socio-economic class.
“You’d be very naive to think that — because substance abuse is so rampant in our society today. I think we need to give this policy a year and see where we are.”
Jarrell said he understands there are “two polarizing sides” to the proposal and that he “understands both” but “at the end of the day what I’d like to see accomplished is to have our students have the opportunity to have an excuse to say no when tempted.
“There is no silver bullet to solve this but I do think random drug testing is a tool to use.”
Also citing a Supreme Court ruling that won’t allow random drug testing for all students, Jarrell said he is hopeful “every parent will opt their child in” to the testing pool.
“I’m also putting my name into the pool and will pay myself for my own test when my number comes up.”
Board vice president Larry Ford said he is considering the “pros and cons on both sides” of the issue.
“Cindy Jafary has done a lot of research on this and there are many valid points there,” said Ford. “But the bottom line is we need to send a signal to the students that if you are possessing and using drugs, you can get caught. This policy would act as a deterrent in many cases, but it is not going to stop it.
“If kids want to indulge, they are going to do it no matter what.”
All of the board members echoed the same sentiment that active parental involvement, although not a guarantee, is the strongest deterrent to the substance abuse problem with children.