School board considers drug-testing program at MCHS

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By The Staff

Marion County High School is one of the only high schools in the region that doesn't conduct student drug testing.

But that could change by next school year.

Jayne Hogan and Shelton Young, members of the Marion County Safe Community Coalition, made a proposal to the Marion County Board of Education last week to begin random student drug testing at MCHS.

According to the proposal, the program would be voluntary. During school registration, students and their parents would be asked to sign a statement that they volunteer to be a part of the program for the upcoming school year. If they don't sign the form, they won't be required to participate. If they do sign the form, they could be randomly selected to participate in a drug screening at any time during the school year.

"They can't back out," Hogan said. "Once you sign up, you're signed up for the year. If they draw your name you can't change your mind."

But, Young wanted to point out that this program was in no way punitive in nature. Law enforcement is not going to be involved, nor will the record be in the student's academic chart. Only the principal and the parents will know the results, and records will be destroyed one year after graduation.

In his eyes, and from discussions he's had with students, the program would give students an "excuse to say no," Young said.

"This just gives them a terrific out," he said.

If the proposal is approved, the goal is to randomly drug test 260 students in the 2010-11 school year, and the Marion County Safe Community Coalition would foot the bill. The school board will not be responsible for any of the costs. Any counseling or treatment that is needed and can't be afforded by the student's family will be covered by the Heartland Region fund, Hogan said. Communicare clinics in Elizabethtown and in Lebanon have agreed to work with the school system to offer treatment programs for students who test positive. Students won't be required to get treatment if they test positive, but it will be available for them, Hogan said.

Currently, 92 out of 174 school districts in the state conduct some type of drug testing, including Bardstown Independent, Campbellsville Independent, Nelson, Washington, Casey and LaRue counties.

However, Board Member Alex Ackermann said, after doing some research of her own, she was having a hard time understanding how this program would be effective.

"What research can you show me that proves random drug testing makes a difference," Ackermann asked Hogan and Young.

According to Hogan, she spoke to school officials that said drug-testing programs gave kids a reason to say no.

But, Ackermann said the fact that this program is voluntary would seem to make it less effective.

"It's not truly a random thing," she said. "To be a truly random test, you would have to randomize the whole student body. What you're doing is your randomizing the people that want to sign up for this."

According to Hogan and Young, this program would be a start toward addressing the local teenage drug problem.

Board Member Bernard Miles agreed.

"I think one of those most pressing issues today that's destroying our children is the drug problem," he said. "If we can do something to help kids... I think it would be a wonderful thing."

Board Member DeLane Pinkston asked if there had been any negative effects from drug testing at schools. Young said the biggest negative has been when the parents fail to follow-up on treatment for their children. But most of the districts in the region that have been doing it say it works and have been continuing their programs, some for several years, Hogan said.

"They must think it's effective or they would cease doing it," newly appointed Board Member Brad Mattingly said.

Young said that if the Marion County Safe Community Coalition didn't think it would be effective, the group wouldn't be agreeing to pay for it.

"It's not so much why should we, it's why shouldn't we?" Young said.

Ackermann said if the school district thought it would be effective for students, maybe it should consider drug testing teachers and staff as well.

"I am wondering if we feel like this is a valuable tool for our students... Are we holding the same expectations for our teachers," Ackermann said. "I think we ought to hold everybody to the same standard if we're going that way."

Young said the money the coalition has agreed to spend on the program is geared toward helping children and would only be used toward funding a drug-testing program for students.

Superintendent Donald Smith said he's worked in school districts that have had drug testing programs, but most of the programs were only for students involved in athletics, which caused some legal problems. But, he sees the voluntary random drug testing proposed by the coalition as a start.

"And that's better than nothing," he said.

But, Smith said there has already been some push back from administrators, specifically because the program would only include students and not school staff.

"If everybody in this organization is not on board, it's going to be hard," Smith said. "I'm not seeing that everybody is really on board."

But, Miles said he believes this program is a start in the right direction and voiced his full support.

"If we don't think we have a drug problem in this county, our heads are in the sand," he said. "If we can help one child not to have to go through that, to me it would be worth it."

Superintendent Smith said he will make a recommendation concerning the student drug-testing program at the April 27 board meeting, which will be held at the Marion County Area Technology Center at 7 p.m.

Student drug testing procedure

1. Student volunteers will be subject to random drug testing at any time during the school year after the consent form has been filed.

2. The collection of urine specimen for the random drug testing will be conducted on school campus.

3. The drug testing agency approved by the board will determine which student participants will be tested by a random drawing of numbers or names. 

4. Prior to giving a urine specimen, each student participant will complete a "chain of custody" form furnished by the agency.

5. To ensure the identification of the participant, a principal or designee will identify the student.

6. One or more representatives of the agency will be present when the specimen is taken. The agency will provide a receptacle for the collection of urine, and the student will be permitted privacy during the collection process.

7. Prior to entering the bathroom facility, the student will be required to leave all personal belongings in the custody of the school representative present for student identification.

8. The urine will be tested with the instant result test. If this test comes up positive, the specimen will be sent to the lab for an extensive test. The agency will also have a medical review done of the specimen to see if the result is attributable to medication prescribed by a physician.

9. All results are confidential. Parents and the student will be notified if the results are positive.

10. Students who test positive will be informed about drug treatment and intervention programs available in the area.

11. One year after the student's graduation, the records will be destroyed. At no time will the results or records be placed in the student's academic file or be voluntarily turned over to any law enforcement agency. 

12. Substances that will be tested include Amphetamines (Ecstasy), Barbiturates, Benzodiazepines, Benzoylecgonine-Cocaine Metab, Opiates (Morphine), Marijuana, Methadone, Methaqualone, Phencyclidine (PCP) and Propoxyphene.