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Student drug, alcohol pledge OK'd
By Henry County School Board
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Jared Cotton

Friday, May 3, 2013

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Beginning in the 2013-14 school year, students in Henry County Public Schools who want to participate in Virginia High School League-sanctioned extracurricular activities will have to sign a pledge not to use drugs, alcohol or tobacco during the season.

The Henry County School Board unanimously approved that action Thursday. School officials now will develop the specifics of the pledge program.

VHSL-sanctioned activities include athletics and other extracurricular activities such as forensics and drama. Most VHSL-sanctioned activities are in the high schools, but school board members expressed some interest in having the pledge program for middle schools as well.

At the school board’s Jan. 3 meeting, Ridgeway District board member Francis Zehr proposed that the division have a drug-testing program for students who participate in extracurricular activities. At that meeting, the school board approved Zehr’s motion for school Superintendent Jared Cotton and his staff to look into that idea and develop a policy for the board to consider.

Zehr stated in a memo at the time: “Thank goodness we do not have a serious drug problem in the Henry County School System and by being proactive we can keep it that way.”

Thursday, Cotton recommended implementing a pledge program for the 2013-2014 school year; collaborating with available community resources; collaborating with parents on support of the program; and budgeting for potential implementation of random drug testing for the 2014-2015 school year.

A PowerPoint presentation of the staff’s findings was made by Linda Dorr, assistant superintendent of human resources and student services; Amy Scott, coordinator of student services; and Sherry Vestal, school nurse coordinator; and Cotton made comments as well. The findings are based mainly on Salem City Schools’ pledge and random student drug testing program.

According to the presentation, characteristics of a successful program and some suggestions include:

FOR A PLEDGE PROGRAM:

• Deters alcohol, tobacco and illegal drug use by students; is not intended to be disciplinary or punitive in nature; ensures an atmosphere of physical and mental well-being; and has student and parent responsibilities.

Students sign a pledge card indicating they will not use alcohol, tobacco or other illegal or synthetic drugs during the season. Parents also must sign the pledge card noting that they understand and support the program.

Students and their parents are required to attend seasonal meetings where information regarding the program is communicated.

FOR A TESTING PROGRAM (if the board decides to adopt a testing program):

• “Randomly testing 10 percent of students participating in VHSL-sanctioned extracurricular activities per season (fall, winter and spring). Coaches, sponsors or other school staff may request testing (of students). In administering the program, the school division will look at a 9-panel drug screen. The test site will be at the participant’s respective school. Names of the participants will remain confidential.”

• “All students in HCPS (Henry County Public Schools) who choose to participate in athletics and VHSL-sanctioned activities will be required to participate in a random testing program. Ten percent of students participating in these activities will be tested. Selection of students will be conducted on a random basis or in the event that a coach or staff member has a reasonable suspicion to believe that a member has been using drugs, alcohol or tobacco.”

• “Collaborate with outside agencies in developing a memorandum of understanding outlining services for students and families. Communicate with parents about the pledge program and testing program. Conduct seasonal required meetings for parents and students where information about the program is communicated.”

Potential community resources could include the emergency room, outpatient facilities, Piedmont Community Services, Family Preservation Services, National Counseling Services and local psychologists, but that would have to be worked out, officials said.

• Employ two part-time employees — a program coordinator and a medical review officer — for a drug-testing program for Henry County Schools. The program coordinator would coordinate and supervise the testing program, coordinate collection of the specimens, coordinate appeal procedures and make recommendations for follow-up care. The medical review officer would review all results of testing; contact parent/guardian to see if student is on any type of medication; and reports results to program coordinator.

The estimated costs for a testing program are $54,050 for annual salaries and roughly $12,000 for the cost of testing for a total annual cost of about $64,000. The testing cost could vary, depending on a number of factors.

Dorr said officials researched student drug screening programs in the Salem City, Williamsburg/James City and Lynchburg (no longer testing) school divisions. She said Salem City Schools has data to show that its program is effective in deterring drug use.

In January, Curtis Hicks, Salem City Schools’ director of secondary instruction, told the Bulletin that in the spring of 2011, that school division asked students to provide feedback about its random drug testing program. Results of the survey showed that 86 percent of Salem students who participated in a school-sponsored sports and/or competitive VHSL-sponsored extracurricular activities chose not to use illegal drugs, alcohol or tobacco during their activity seasons, a 39 percent increase. Results also showed that 74 percent of students supported the drug testing program, according to information he provided.

He said Salem City Schools added a random drug testing program to its years-old pledge program because student-athletes consistently admitted to breaking pledges during their athletic seasons at rates similar to national norms and at rates reported by students not involved in athletics. Also, Salem athletes, parents and coaches consistently recommended adding randomized drug and alcohol screening to its pledge program, according to Hicks and information he provided.

Dorr also said Thursday that Henry County Schools officials reviewed the code of Virginia, which allows for random drug testing. She said a local policy, procedures, a random selection procedure, and consequences and interventions need to be developed.

Henry County Schools officials also researched legalities related to student drug testing; examined federal and state regulations regarding confidential health information; and researched types and costs of testing, staffing needs and available community resources, Dorr said.

Zehr said Thursday that he was shocked at a document he received from the National Institute of Citizen Anti-drug Policy showing that an estimated one-third of secondary school students use drugs/alcohol, causing health/safety problems.

The document also says: “Several thousand schools use RSDT (random student drug testing) effectively reducing teen drug use by more than 90 percent and reducing child drug/alcohol addiction, school violence, overdose deaths, high rates of youth incarceration and disrupted education environment.”

Collinsville District school board member Kathy Rogers asked if testing a smaller percentage of students than 10 percent would suffice, and school officials will consider that as they develop the specifics of a program.

Blackberry District school board member Rudy Law asked whether coaches or sponsors recommending students be drug tested would violate the randomness of testing. Division officials said the legality of that would have to be looked into.

Reed Creek District school board member Betsy Mattox suggested school division officials seek the support of booster organizations.

 

 
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