Farmer proposes random drug tests for students
Should students at Valdez City Schools be subject to random drug testing?
The question was brought to the forefront at a regular school board meeting Sept. 24 when school board member Dawn Farmer said she hoped the board would explore random drug testing of student athletes at Valdez High School.
The board of education was poised to begin discussions on needed updates to its drug policy, mainly due to the fact that disciplinary measures differ between sixth grade students and the seventh and eighth graders who all attend the same school. The difference in discipline stems from the fact that when the current policy was approved in 2006, sixth grade students were attending Hermon Hutchens Elementary School. At the beginning of this school year, sixth graders moved to Gilson Jr. High and it changed its name to Gilson Middle School.
A new urgency entered the discussions when the parent of a seventh grader at Gilson Middle School addressed the board claiming a sixth grade student tried to sell her child drugs during class.
“It was in culinary arts class for Pete’s sake,” she said.
Parent Casey Sodergren asked the board to crack down hard on what she perceived to be a drug culture at the high school and asked the board to impose stiffer penalties on offenders.
"It is around every corner in our schools,” Sodergren complained, “Our policy is not strong enough.”
The suggestion that random drug testing of all higher-grade students should be implemented soon followed. Closing the high school campus at lunch hour, random locker searches and other measures such as car searches were mentioned as ways to curb student drug use at the school.
On the surface, the incident was alarming. However, Bill Comer, Valdez police chief, said the incident - while of great concern – did not actually involve illicit drugs.
Comer said it appeared a sixth grade student may have brought lawn clippings to class and attempted to sell them as drugs. It was unclear as to what motivated the bunko sale.
A third student reported the incident and police interrogated both students involved.
It appeared to be a funny incident, if the topic was not so serious.
Comer said the police department will be as actively involved as the board asks it to be.
“I’ll be part of any discussion,” he said, “I’ll carry the flags, whatever flags they want me to carry.”
Rod Morrison, principal at Gilson, said he could not discuss particulars of the case or what remedies or disciplinary measures were imposed.
Morrison did say the district policy calls for a one day suspension for a first offense, that can be set aside and converted to an in-school if the student is put into appropriate drug counseling in a timely fashion.
Jacob Jensen, district superintendent for Valdez City Schools, also declined to elaborate on the case but did quote district policy. He said the district has students drug tested in the event of such incidents.
“I really don’t have a comment other than that,” he said.
Jensen said the board is looking to form a new committee to advise the school board on revisions to the district’s drug policy and will welcome any member of the community to join once the board is ready to take action.