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Student drug testing plan tabled
Friday, February 7, 2014
By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer
Schools Superintendent Jared Cotton asked for but got no direction from the Henry County School Board on Thursday on whether to budget funds in fiscal 2014-15 to implement random student drug testing.
Neither Collinsville District school board member Dr. Merris Stambaugh’s motion not to include funds for random student drug testing in the budget nor Ridgeway District school board member Francis Zehr’s motion to include funds for that purpose received a second.
Stambaugh said each motion is tabled, which board Chairman Joe DeVault said means that either motion or both could be brought up again.
“My sense is I don’t do anything until I hear from the board,” Cotton said later.
In the process of making his motion, Stambaugh said there’s not strong evidence to show the “efficacy” (power to produce a desired result) of student drug testing. He distributed a study and some related articles indicating that drug testing is relatively ineffective in preventing drug use.
Stambaugh also expressed concerns about costs of implementing random student drug testing considering the school division’s many other budgetary needs. Later, he also said that he has read that only a relatively small percentage of schools are doing student drug testing.
The study he distributed was published last month in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. It says researchers “examined the association that perceptions of school climate and drug testing have with the initiation and escalation of substance use in U.S. high school students over a 1-year period.” A sample of 361 high school students was used.
The study concluded that its research reinforces previous conclusions in a number of studies that student drug testing “is a relatively ineffective drug-prevention policy. ... On the other hand, interventions that improve school climate may have greater efficacy.”
It cited some studies that showed that “‘whole school’ health promotion efforts and interventions that work with students, teachers and parents to develop positive school staff-student relationships and promote students’ security have been found to reduce substance use.”
It said: “Young people whose relationships with their fellow students and teachers lack respect are more likely to initiate and escalate use of drugs, as evidence in this and other studies ... and to be subject to other mental health problems. Therefore, the potential consequences of poor school climates for young people’s health are far reaching and deserving of attention.”
At the school board meeting on Jan. 3, 2013, 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 Cotton and his staff to look into that idea.
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.”
At a school board meeting on May 2, 2013, 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.
During a presentation to the school board at that meeting, Linda Dorr, at the time assistant superintendent of human resources and student services, said Salem City Schools had data to show that its drug-screening program was effective in deterring drug use.
In January 2013, 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 Virginia High School League-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.
Hicks 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.
Zehr read those comments by Hicks at the school board’s meeting Thursday.
Stambaugh, who was elected to the school board in November, called that “anecdotal,” which means based on or consisting of reports or observations of usually unscientific observers. He also said information about one school district is limited in scope compared with national studies.
The school board voted at its May 2, 2013, meeting to implement beginning in the 2013-14 school year a program in which students who want to participate in VHSL-sanctioned extracurricular activities have to sign a pledge not to use drugs, alcohol or tobacco during the season.
VHSL-sanctioned activities include athletics and activities such as forensics and drama. Most VHSL-sanctioned activities are in the high schools, but school board members previously expressed some interest in having the pledge program for middle schools as well.
Cotton told the school board Thursday the pledge program has been implemented, meetings with parents were held, and surveys on the impact of the program have been developed but not yet administered to students and parents.
He estimated that nearly $46,000 would be needed to implement a random student drug testing program, but that could vary. That cost would include a part-time coordinator, he said.