Public forum addresses concerns about new drug policy

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DONNA HAJEK
Several dozen patrons and students attended a public forum Jan. 15 on Unified School District 408’s new drug policy.

Gerry Henderson, superintendent, Ken Arnhold, Marion High School principal, and Tod Gordon, Marion Middle School principal, led the forum about random testing for illegal substances which is now part of USD 408 policy.

Henderson told the group the purpose of the new measure is to “help young people make better choices.”

He reported he has gotten phone calls from “schools all over the state, they want to know how this works for us.”

One patron asked why only students involved in extra curriculum would be tested and not the entire student body. Henderson said the Supreme Court has ruled that a student cannot be denied the right of attending public school.

He said there are no consequences for students not participating in extra-curricular school activities. He said parents of non-participating students can opt their child into the pool if they choose. “But you cannot opt out,” Hendeson said.

He said a student involved in several activities that would “choose to use” drugs puts himself or herself “in a lot of jeopardy.”

A first-time offense would cost a student 10 percent of everything in which he or she involved. A second offense would cost a student one-half and a third offense takes away the student’s participation in all extra-curricular activities.

Decisions could be appealed, Henderson said, but the appeal “would be tough.”

Tim Harris, representing The Consortium Inc., the drug-testing company, explained the testing procedure and the accuracy of the results.

Harris said that when the Caldwell school system implemented a similar drug-testing policy, the school had a positive result in 27 percent of the tests. The next semester, the percentage of positive tests had dropped to between 7 and 8 percent. The second year, very few positive results occurred.

Meanwhile, the number of students participating in activities had not noticeably decreased.

“Students got the message,” Harris said. “(Drug use is) not popular if you’re going to participate (in activities).”

Harris also explained the privacy and security of the testing procedure and the test results. He said the “only absolute identifier that can’t be mixed up with someone else” is by using name and Social Security number. That information is protected by The Consortium, eliminating any problem with identity theft.

The Consortium has been training USD 408’s school nurse to properly collect samples. Harris explained the district is saving money using its school nurse, making the cost $43 per test.

Specimens collected will have a Test A and Test B. If Test A is positive, the student and parent or guardian is then given the opportunity to have Test B analyzed by a different lab. That request would cost the parent $150.

The Consortium would delete a students records once he or she graduates from high school.

Harris assured the public those records would not follow the student into the future.

School personnel announced new consent forms will be issued and must be on file, signed and dated by the student and parent (or guardian) before a student can participate in an extra-curricular activity.

With the mid-year approval of the policy, students presently involved in activities will have “a couple weeks” to return the consent forms, Henderson said.

In the future, all forms must be on file before the activity begins.

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