by PJ Rooks
The West Platte School Board will vote later this month on whether or not to implement a random drug testing policy for students participating in extracurricular activities or using the school parking lot.
Superintendent Jarrod Wheeler said the idea stems not just from the feedback of a community engagement group that met throughout last year, but that results of a student survey indicated that the district “would have clear justification that student drug testing would have a right fit here.”
Wheeler declined to disclose the results of the survey, although in the district’s 2010 Missouri Safe and Drug Free Kids Survey, 12.5% of ninth graders said they’d used marijuana in the preceding month.
Wheeler said that about 40 people attended a recent public hearing, some with concerns and some with expressions of support for the idea. In question and answer sessions he has held with the students, Wheeler said he felt that they were in support of the idea.
“I think that they want to have a very good school and a safe school and that they care about themselves and their friends,” Wheeler said, adding that he knows the students also want to have fun and “do all the things that teenagers do” but that he was impressed with their maturity.
Any students participating in Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) activities would be included in the pool of those to be randomly tested and Wheeler said the board is also considering including those participating in co-curricular activities, in addition to the possibility of extending the testing to include seventh- and eighth-grade students as well.
The twelve-panel test will check for amphetamines, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, cocaine, marijuana, methadone, methamphetamine, opiates, oxycodone, phencyclidine (PCP), propoxyphene (PPX) and tricyclic antidepressants, although the board is still also looking at options to include synthetic drugs too. The tests will not check for tobacco and alcohol use.
Without the addition of the synthetic drug screen, Wheeler said the program would cost the district between $1,500 and $2,000 this year and that if the policy is approved by the board, administrators will wait about 30 days before beginning a monthly routine of randomly calling in 10-12 students for testing.
The goal of the proposed policy is not to catch students doing drugs, Wheeler said, but to give them another way to opt out when confronted with peer pressure and, for those who do test positive, it provides the district an opportunity for earlier intervention while students are still under the roof of their parents.
“If we can eradicate drugs out of our schools to the greatest extent possible, we hope our learning will improve, we hope safety will improve,” Wheeler said. “We want to promote our mission, which in part talks about the development of good physical and mental health.”
Kelli Hopkins, associate executive director of the Missouri School Board Association (MSBA), said that two or three Missouri districts have been adding random drug testing policies each year.
The MSBA, which provides education policy services for school districts, put together a sample policy for random student drug testing in 2007, over a decade after a Supreme Court ruling (Vernonia School District v. Acton) established that random drug testing of student athletes did not violate search and seizure laws because the students were under the supervision of state employees during school events.
“We resisted putting out a policy for a long, long time because there are a lot of questions associated with the efficacy of drug testing,” said Hopkins. “Does the expense reduce student use? There’s really no good data to support that but no good data that says it fails, either. When these policies first started popping up, there were a lot of lawsuits.”
Hopkins said that because of the expense of possible litigation, they advised school districts to avoid implementing such policies unless they suspected a large drug problem, in which case districts were advised to consult with their attorney in writing the policy.
“Finally in 2007 we put out our own sample policy because the ones that were coming from the school districts were not very good,” Hopkins said. School districts were not having the policies written by their attorneys, she said, even though it was important that the policies be very similar to those already approved by the Supreme Court.
Studies exploring the effectiveness of random student drug testing programs are still sparse, however one published earlier this year in the Journal of Adolescent Health compared survey responses of ninth through twelfth graders who attended school in 20 districts with—and 16 districts without—random drug testing policies in place. While the authors did find lower rates of drug usage among students participating in activities that may have required random drug testing, the testing requirements did not appear to impact students’ plans to use drugs at some point in the future.
“Thirty-four percent of students subject to MRSDT (mandatory random student drug testing) reported that they ‘definitely will’ or ‘probably will’ use substances in the next 12 months, compared with 33% of comparable students in schools without MRSDT,” they wrote.
Without the backdrop of hard data, however, Hopkins said that most of the feedback the MSBA has received on random student drug teating takes the form of anecdotes related by board members.
“What they’re hearing is that students who might have participated in illegal drug use—that were kind of on the fence—are able to say, ‘Oh, I can’t now because I’ve got this basketball thing,’ or ‘this football thing’ and it gives them an out,” Hopkins said. “For young kids, peer pressure is huge.”
CUTS TAX LEVY
In other news from the West Platte schools, board members on August 28 voted to set the district’s tax levy rate at $4.10, a 35-cent drop from last year’s levy.
“This is the lowest school levy that has been approved since 1994-95,” said Superintendent Jerrod Wheeler. “I’m happy that we had the funding from Iatan to pay off our debt. Hopefully that will give a little bit of a release to household incomes this year.”
The district also received over $125,000 in free technology equipment earlier this month through the Computers for Learning program. Sponsored by the U.S. General Services Administration, the program encourages government agencies to pass excess computers and equipment on to schools rather than disposing of them. West Platte received 150 computers, along with monitors, scanners, printers and other accessories, and plans to provide teacher workstations for each classroom in addition to populating a new computer lab in the High school media center.
Technology director Shane Farmer said the program is an “excellent way to bring high quality, highly functional equipment into our school at no cost to the district other than the minimal cost to ship across the county to West Platte.”