Drug testing only to include students, for now

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Committee must still decide what specific students will be tested

By Stevie Lowery

There are still many unanswered questions regarding the implementation of student drug testing at Marion County High School, but the committee charged with developing a drug testing policy is working to resolve those issues before fall sports begin July 15.

Last week, the Marion County Public Schools Drug Testing Implementation Committee met with school board attorney Joe Mattingly to discuss the legalities of student drug testing and the next steps that need to be taken.

According to Mattingly, while many people in the public believe the school system should also drug test teachers and staff, the committee's focus is strictly student drug testing, for now.

"The direct charge from the board has been to direct student testing," Mattingly said.

From a legal standpoint, Mattingly said that an issue that has always been challenged with student drug testing is student privacy.

"You can almost guarantee that if you decide that all 1,000 students are going to be drug tested, at some point, somebody is going to challenge that," he said. "My guess is this board is going to want to find a policy that is not likely to get a challenge."

Mattingly said that if the policy is more specific, for instance includes only the students that are involved in athletics, extra-curricular activities and students that drive to school, it's less likely to get challenged in court. But, the committee still needs to come to a consensus regarding what specific students will be tested. According to Stacey Hall, MCHS assistant principal and athletic director, approximately 300 students participate in athletics (some as young as third grade), an estimated 375 students drive and hundreds of students participate in school clubs at the high school.

The committee must also decide who is going to administer the tests and what the consequences will be if a test comes up positive. According to Mattingly, because the Lincoln Trail Health District employs the school nurses the board of education would be required to pay them extra to have them administer the tests. Because of that, Nelson County High School hired its own school nurses and Bardstown Independent Schools use students and/or staff from St. Catharine College. Adair County High School pays an outside agency to administer the tests. It's still up in the air as to who will administer the tests for MCHS.

Another issue that is unresolved is the cost of the program. To have an effective program, the board of education is most likely going to have to provide some additional funding, according to committee members. For instance, Adair County's program costs $10,000 a year. The Marion County Heartland Safe Community Coalition has provided $5,000 to be used for student drug testing, but it's likely that won't be enough. Once the committee has a better idea of the costs of the program, they plan on giving that information to the board of education and then begin developing the high school's specific drug testing policy.

Having a public forum on the subject was also discussed, but one hasn't been officially scheduled yet.

The Marion County Public Schools Drug Testing Implementation Committee's next meeting is scheduled for tomorrow, Thursday, May 19, at 11:30 a.m. at the Marion County Board of Education office.