Trimble school board considers drug-test policy

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Plan seen as way to help reduce student drug use

By Phyllis McLaughlin

The Trimble Banner

Trimble County High School students and staff who drive to school may soon be subject to random drug tests.
The Board of Education discussed the possibility of instituting random drug-testing during its Dec. 15 meeting, as a way to deter drug use on school property.
The discussion was prompted by the recent expulsion of three high school students this year who were found to be using prescription medications illicitly.
The main question was whether or not such testing is legal. Principal Stirling “Buddy” Sampson Jr. said he “would love to have the authority in my office,” but wondered if it would fall into the category of “searching” students.
“We have to have reasonable suspicion to do any search,” he said.
Concerns also centered around confidentiality, and whether such tests would interfere with privacy concerning health issues and legal prescriptions students may be taking.
“A lot of parents who have kids with ADD [attention deficit disorder] don’t want teachers to know he is on medication,” said Bedford pharmacist Bob Yowler, who attended the meeting. His main concern, he said, is not to stigmatize students who rely on medication such as Ritalin to function in school.
Board member Jill Simmons suggested that, until the legality of testing can be determined, the school bring in drug-sniffing dogs more often to search for illegal substances.
Sampson said a drug-sniffing dog is brought onto school property – unannounced even to him or his staff – three times a year.
“Students aren’t bringing drugs into the school ... they already have a fear that they’ll get caught” with marijuana, especially, Sampson said. “But with pills, dogs don’t smell that. The only way to know [if someone is using] is if we see an exchange.”
Sampson said only he and the school nurse know which students are on prescription medications for health issues, and that even with drug testing, that information would stay confidential.
“I would like to hear from parents,” said board Vice President Scott Burrows. “I don’t see the problem you make it out to be. I think we need to do something proactive about drug use in our schools.”
Board members agreed that if students are tested, then staff – and even board members themselves – also should be tested, to set an example for students.
“The random testing of staff and board members sends a message to kids,” board President Kim Temple said. “And, if one of us is caught [using drugs illicitly], then the punishment has to be as severe” as it would be for a student.

Similar program in use
at Carroll County High School

For several years, random drug-testing has been a policy at neighboring Carroll County High School, according to Principal John Leeper.
At CCHS, students who want to drive to school and any who want to participate in extracurricular activities must agree to participating in random drug tests, Leeper said. All club or athletic sign-up packets also include consent forms that students and their parents must sign when they join.
The program finds its legal footing based on the school’s philosophy that “we are required by law to provide an education, but extracurricular activities are a privilege,” Leeper said. “If [a student wants] to participate, you must allow us the opportunity to help you stay clean.”
Leeper admitted that participation in extracurricular activities dropped the first year the program was instituted.
“But as the year went on, more students began to realize it was a safeguard instead of a ‘gotcha’” intended to catch them doing something wrong, he said.
Rather, the main goal is to communicate with a student’s parents and family that there is a problem and to encourage them to seek help, Leeper said.
Notifying parents and a probationary period are the consequences of a student’s first positive test for drugs. “The second time is where the real punishment begins to come into play,” Leeper said. “They lose their leadership roles or have to sit out a certain number of games.”
“It’s worked very well,” Leeper said, adding that more students than ever now participate in sports and other extracurricular activities.

'A great idea'

As the force behind Trimble CARES, a countywide coalition trying to tackle substance abuse among children and adults, Denise Hall is all for establishing a drug-testing program at TCHS.
“I absolutely think it’s a great idea,” she said during a recent interview. “Our students ... think they’re not going to get caught. They think ‘I’m invincible.’”
Hall, who is coordinator of the Family Resource and Youth Services Center based at the high school, said she and her assistant coordinator, Marla Fetterhoff, learned about the effectiveness of such programs during a recent conference in Washington, D.C.
CARES recently received a five-year, $650,000 federal grant, which she said will be used to help provide more programs to students and adults. She and Fetterhoff are planning a media campaign in the high school and middle school to address the dangers of prescription-drug abuse, which is an escalating problem in schools nationwide, she said.
Drug-testing would be a useful tool in identifying students most at risk for abusing or selling prescription medications.
Hall said traditional methods of catching students misusing medications generally tend to identify students who simply may be trying to help their friends, rather than the at-risk kids.
A big part of the problem is the “sharing culture” of today’s society, she said.
“If someone says they have a headache, you give them an ibuprofen,” Hall said. Or, perhaps a student will go as far as giving a friend something a parent may be taking for similar symptoms, but not think of the potential adverse side-effects or know the risk of interactions with other medications their friend may be taking.
“A lot of times, the intent isn’t aways addiction or trafficking. ... Often, they just want to help.”
For more information about Trimble CARES, call Hall or Fetterhoff at (502) 255-5110, Ext. 1044.