MCHS to random drug test
‘Bold’ initiative may begin next school year
By Kathryn Purcell
It has happened at the collegiate level, the professional level and, most recently, has made it to the floor of the United States Senate.
And, next year, if the Morgan County Board of Education has its way, it will make it into the Board Policy Manual and throughout the halls of Morgan County High School.
At Monday night's Board meeting, Morgan County Superintendent Stan DeJarnett rolled out proposed policy and procedures regarding random drug testing at Morgan County High School for the Board of Education.
"This is one of the most significant things we've done in Morgan County in quite a while," DeJarnett said.
According to DeJarnett, the random drug testing will apply to any student who participates in Georgia High School Association (GHSA) activities as well as any student who wishes to obtain a parking pass at the school and will begin with the start of the 2008-2009 school year.
In order to test, however, a consent form must be provided by the student, with the understanding that the test results will be shared with not only their parent or legal guardian, but also school administration and head coaches. In turn, a consent form is a requirement for participation in any GHSA-sponsored activity, sports or otherwise, as well as for the ability to park on the school's campus.
The policy stems from the idea that the Board is concerned about the effect of drugs on individual students as well as the learning environment, according to Board Policy on Student Drug Use, copies of which were provided at the meeting.
"The Morgan County Board of Education firmly believes that the use and abuse of drugs that are either not prescribed or not used as prescribed are detrimental to the physical, emotional and mental well-being of its students," the proposed Board Policy states. "The Board further believes that this abuse seriously interferes with the academic and athletic performance of students and creates an unhealthy learning environment. These concerns have prompted the Board to authorize the Superintendent and staff to develop and implement drug screening procedures for all students who wish to participate in any GHSA-governed interscholastic activity or any student who applies for a parking permit and intends to park a vehicle on school grounds at Morgan County High School."
As far as the proposed procedures for random drug testing at Morgan County High School, the process will begin with the signing consent forms by all students involved in GHSA-sponsored activities as well as students applying for parking permits. They are also required to complete paperwork outlining any medication they are currently taking. Using student numbers, not names, a pool of candidates for testing will be created and an outside firm, also responsible for the administration of the drug testing, will choose candidates at random.
The testing itself requires a urine sample, and will be testing for substances including amphetamines, barbiturates, cocaine, marijuana (THC), methamphetamines, opiates and propoxyphene, according to the proposed procedures. While school personnel will supervise students taking the test, they will not administer the test. Privacy and confidentiality will be maintained, the proposed policy states, and specimens will be processed for identity and protected against tampering.
Also, a student's refusal to submit to the testing will be considered a positive result.
If the drug test comes back positive, parents or legal guardians as well as school administration and head coaches or GHSA activity leaders will be notified.
With the First Positive, student-athletes will be suspended for 10 percent of the teams' regular season games or contests, according to the proposed policy, and those with parking permits will be suspended from parking at the school for 18 consecutive school days beginning the next school day. Student-athletes may remain a part of the team, however, and are expected to continue practicing with the team. Further, both the student and the student's parents or legal guardians must provide proof that the student is part of a drug counseling program approved by the school's principal and must agree to another drug test at the expense of the family.
A Second Positive results in suspension from the team and/or driving privileges. A meeting between the student, parents or legal guardians, principal, head coach and athletic director must be scheduled, where the student must agree to a minimum four-week drug treatment and counseling program. The student can apply for returning to the team and/or for a parking permit, then, if a negative drug screen is provided, continuous counseling is agreed to, future testing on demand at the family's expense is agreed to and if the student understands that the application for re-joining the team or again receiving a parking permit may be denied.
A Third Positive results in suspension from all athletics and/or parking privileges for one calendar year, and continued counseling and treatment along with testing is expected at the family's expense.
Additionally, students who are athletes and hold a parking permit will lose both privileges should a positive result come back. Also, those who lose their parking permits will not be permitted to park in areas near campus, including the track, tennis courts, Board of Education office, Recreation Department or Morgan County Public Library, the proposed policy states.
The goals of the initiative, according to the proposed policy, include giving students an opportunity to refuse drugs, building positive role models, encouraging students to stay drug-free, deterring use of illegal drugs in the community and identifying those using drugs, as well as the drugs being used, in an effort to provide intervention and treatment.
"We want to give kids another reason to say, 'No,'" DeJarnett said.
"If my son or daughter looks up to these kids, they need to be drug-free, and have the opportunity to get help if they need it," Morgan County High School Football Head Coach and social studies teacher Bill Malone said, referencing the idea that the random drug testing program will provide more positive role models.
The random drug testing initiative at Morgan County High School is not part of the discipline program, and cases of students caught with drugs at school will be treated differently, in accordance with Board policy and procedures, than those who test positive through the program.
DeJarnett credited the upstart of the initiative to members of the school's athletic staff, who visited and spoke with other school systems that already have random drug testing programs in place.
"The greatest thing about it is the awareness it gives to the school system and county," Morgan County Athletic Director Kenny Moore said. "There are not a whole lot of negatives we can take from this...This is not a witch hunt. We're here to walk side-by-side with the child, and if there is a problem, we're here with an intervention plan."
Moreover, the Morgan County Sheriff's Office has agreed to foot the majority of the bill for the program, through the use of the money they receive from drug arrests and seizures, according to DeJarnett.
"Hopefully, it will reduce my population later on, so I consider it an investment," Morgan County Sheriff Robert Markley, who was in attendance at the meeting, said.
Board of Education members seemed to agree with the proposed policy and procedures.
"It's a reality we have to face," Board Chairman Nelson Hale said. "I think this is a great way to do that...It's a positive, pro-active approach."
"It is a bold and brave step," Board member Dave Belton said.
"This is one of the best things to happen in a while," Board member Minnie Peek said. "It will help someone's child and that's what school is all about."
The Board voted unanimously to table any decision about the proposed random drug testing policy and procedures until more public comment could be heard on the initiative. DeJarnett indicated that a series of public meetings and discussions on the program would begin within the month.