Drug testing discussions open with school board
New camera policy, home school program and other changes on the table
Valdez Star photo
Superintendent Jim Nygaard showed members of the school board a saliva-based drug test he is proposing the district use to screen student athletes.
The new school year begins for most Valdez students this Tuesday, September 2 but Gilson Middle School is not the only new topic of discussion for the board of education.
At Monday night's regularly scheduled school board meeting, members passed the district's new security camera policy, presented specifics on its new home school program and had its first discussion in over a year on instituting a possible drug testing policy for students that participate in activities such as school sports.
The board unanimously passed a new policy governing the use of security cameras on district property.
The new policy, authored by Superintendent Jim Nygaard, is a slightly revised version of a draft policy the board reviewed in late July. The policy, as passed, was changed to mandate a stronger oversight by the superintendent in supervising and maintaining the chain of custody of security cameras in the schools and other district property.
"The cameras will only be placed in common places," Nygaard said, and talked briefly about a new e-monitoring program for school hallways.
The policy, in its entirety, can be found online in the agenda packet for the board of education on the district's Website, http://www.ValdezCitySchools.org.
"I think it will work if all people do their jobs," board member Dr. Kathy Todd said after board member Joe Prax asked if the policy would cover what he called the "camera snafu" the district experience a few years back.
Ruth Knight, the district's new home school coordinator, gave the board an update on the home schooling program that is making its debut this year.
Knight said the fledgling program is open for business and ready to enroll students and parents. There are two forms parents need to fill out to be accepted into the program, a simple enrollment form and a home school agreement.
"It follows exactly all the regulations," Knight told the board, saying the district has worked closely with the state's Dept. of Education in developing the program. "All we need to do is put our name on it."
The home school office will be located in the district office on W. Klutina St. Knight, who also teaches second grade, said the allotment per student is $3,000 and is ready to begin after a vote of the board of education.
She said the district hopes to have all homeschool families enrolled by the end of September.
A discussion on drug testing students that participate in extracurricular activities was on the agenda, a topic that in the past has proved to be controversial – and unsuccessful.
Nygaard presented the board with a copy of a drug testing policy he had authored and implemented in Montana, in hopes of bringing it to Valdez City Schools. It was included in the board's packet as a discussion item, not a new policy up for vote.
The policy calls for drug testing students in grades 6 – 12 that want to participated in extracurricular activities such as school sports.
Nygaard suggested a saliva test for grades 6-8 and urine tests for students in grades 9-12.
"It's a policy designed to protect everybody," Nygaard told the board, presenting the issue as a health and safety issue.
He showed the board an actual saliva drug test used by the juvenile probation officer in Valdez to show how the test is done and described an informal and easy-going collection process which could be administered by the district itself.
The topic is not new to the board of education. The topic was addressed two years ago when an apparent uptick in drug use by students was detected and community concern over the issue put the topic squarely on the board's table.
Costs associated with testing, concerns over the legality of testing under Alaska law and a marked difference of opinion between board members and the public doomed the former proposals to failure.
Nygaard hopes to change that.
"We need to start the conversation," he said, but cautioned the board he did not see it as a fast moving policy change. "We don't do well moving fast...we don't want to move fast on this."
Some board members wholeheartedly supported the concept, other were receptive to revisiting the issues, while some expressed concerns that doomed past efforts to pass such a policy.
"I don't like the "gotcha" part," board member Joe Prax said. "I do like the "we'll help you part.""
The board did agree that it probably would not take long for the public to begin weighing in on the subject.
"I would be interested in what the public has to say," board member Alan Sorum said after noting that historically he has not been a proponent of drug testing students.
Nygaard said he would like to do his homework on the costs in Alaska and other issues before the board begins public discussions.
School begins this Tuesday, September 2.