There was both praise and criticism of a proposed drug policy at Union High School in a public meeting Tuesday.
Only a handful of district patrons attended the discussion concerning the policy that would allow random testing for students involved in sports and other extracurricular activities.
Gregory Black, who has a son who attends Union Middle School and participates in after-school activities, said he believes the policy should be at UHS.
“I am very much in favor of this policy if it is going to make his environment safer,” Black said. “I don’t want him to get involved or for it to be around him.”
Union resident William Fitzgerald said he agrees with the policy too, but questioned why students who fail a drug test are allowed to continue to practice with the team.
Under the proposed policy, the first time a student fails a random test, the student can continue to practice with a sports team or attend club meetings, but can’t take part in competition or other events.
“I don’t know if I want that child participating in a sport until he comes back with a clean test,” Fitzgerald said.
School board member Jennifer Slay said allowing the student to continue to participate could help them stay away from drugs in the future.
“Some kids make mistakes,” she said. “We can’t take everything away after the first mistake.”
Head football coach Eric Webster later added that he would prefer football players stay with the team after testing positive for drugs once.
“We want them to stay with the (football) family so we can help them make better decisions,” he said.
Webster did say he is concerned if he is notified on a Friday that a player can’t play in a game that night due to a positive drug test. He added that if he is told earlier in the week, his team could make adjustments.
Opposition to Policy
Debbie Tyree was the parent who attended the meeting and spoke out about the policy.
“I feel it is taking away my rights to my juvenile children,” she said. “I don’t think the school district should have the right to take a juvenile and scare them half to death.”
She added that the students who take part in extracurricular activities are the least likely to use drugs.
“They aren’t the ones participating in activities — it’s the loners — not the ones in DECA or in sports,” Tyree said. “I think the district could utilize the money in other ways.”
Tyree further added that the policy is an invasion of privacy if someone is in the restroom with them while the student is tested, or standing outside the restroom door.
“Where is this going to stop?” she asked. “My child is my child — I take care of my child. This is my job, not the school district’s job.”
Fitzgerald noted that not all parents are as concerned about their children as Tyree, or don’t pay as close attention.
“There are a lot of parents who don’t, and I think those are the ones who need help,” he said.
School board member Kate Jones, who spoke against the policy when it was first introduced to the board in July, asked if the drug testing could be offered to parents as a “tool” but not made mandatory.
“When a child doesn’t participate any longer, it is going to be obvious why,” she added.
Track Coach Chris Kelley said he fears the policy could be a deterrent for some who might participate in the sport.
Slay, who is the prevention coordinator for the Foundations of Franklin County, said it is important to curb drug use at an early age.
“Most substance abuse starts at the age of 12,” she said. “The longer they wait, the chances of having a problem are so much less likely — if we can help at this level, we should try.”
According to UHS Assistant Principal and Athletic Director Chris Arand, the policy is based on policies used at St. Clair and Salem school districts, as well as a policy drafted by the school district attorney.
Students who test positive would not be eligible for school activities until they test negative for drugs/alcohol.
The first positive test results in 21 days that the students can’t play in competitions, but can still practice with teams and participate in clubs.
If the students fails a second test, at anytime during their time at UHS, they are not eligible to participate in any after school activities or sports for 90 days.
A third positive test is 365 days out of the activity, and after a fourth positive test, the student can never again participate in afterschool clubs or sports at UHS.
Arand noted that there would never be a “school penalty,” such as suspension, for a failed drug test.
Students would be chosen randomly and about 30-40 students would be tested each month. The test would be conducted at UHS.
It is estimated to cost $4,000 to $6,000 annually.
Regular policies already are in place if a student attends school under the influence or possesses drugs or alcohol on the school grounds.
Tyree asked if teachers or staff members would be drug tested as well.
Bryant explained that any R-XI staff members can be tested if there is “reasonable suspicion” following state and federal guidelines.
“Why not test children when there is suspicion?” Tyree asked.
Bryant said the intention of the policy is to give students an “opportunity to say, ‘No.’ ”