Drug testing discussions get go-ahead by school board
Public will be asked to weigh in on topic after the elections in October
Valdez Star photo
Superintendent Jim Nygaard passed out samples of the saliva drug test kits he hopes will be in use in Valdez City Schools this January.
The board of education gave the superintendent the nod to proceed with bringing a drug testing program to the public and the board Monday night.
The thumbs up came from board members Dr. Kathy Todd, Dolores Gard, and outgoing members Dan Walker and Dawn Farmer. This school year's student representative to the board, Madison Fleming, also voted yes. Members Joe Prax and outgoing president Anita Fannin were absent. Board member Alan Sorum was the only vote against proceeding with developing the policy.
"We could implement this as early as January," Superintendent Jim Nygaard said before he passed out samples of the saliva based drug tests to individual board members to try at home.
While Monday's vote was said to be strictly a notice to proceed with talks, Nygaard also presented the board with drafts of a proposed contract for students and parents to sign, a draft of changes to the district's policy that will be needed to accommodate testing and a drug policy implementation question and answer paper outlining his proposal.
A handful of people addressed the board with questions and comments on the proposal.
Carl Hedman, a pastor and parent, spoke against the proposal, calling it an invasion of privacy in what he considers a family matter and a potential breach of confidentiality of personal medical information.
"I'm personally against randomly drug testing...students," he said. "That's really not any of the school district's concern."
Bill Smith, the father and grandfather of students past and present, was also against the policy.
"Leave my kids alone," he said. "We can raise them, you guys teach them."
A number of school employees spoke in favor of instituting a drug testing policy, including Ron Langseth and Ann Norris.
"I'd rather see them have a brighter tomorrow than a happy today," Norris, the music teacher, said in support of the program.
Teacher Lucia Hedman testified against the move.
"You are forcing them to prove their innocence and I have a real problem with that," she said, "Not even the police can stop you on the street without suspicion."
Nygaard is proposing that all students grades 6 - 12 that participate in activities – including school sports and other programs such as band and Acca-Deca be tested.
Under the complete proposal he is asking that 5 percent of students be randomly tested weekly at a cost of about $65 to $100. The saliva based test, called the Oratect Oral Fluid Drug Screen Device, can detect the presence of marijuana, cocaine, PCP, morphine, amphetamines and meth.
Valdez Star photo
Superintendent Jim Nygaard with the saliva drug test kits he is proposing to use to test students that participate in school activities.
All students in activities will be assigned a number, and numbers will be randomly generated by the company supplying the tests. Collection of the saliva swabs will be made by either the superintendent or the district's activities director. Tests that show positive for the presence of drugs will be sealed and sent to the company for further testing. Parents will also be contacted and given the option to be present during testing Nygaard said. The cost for additional testing is an additional $20.
"Be prepared to come back and talk with us," Nygaard said, adding that he plans to hold public hearings and talks with students and staff in preparation of the implementing the policy.
"This is about the education of our kids," Nygaard said, "I'm not going to be chasing anyone down the hallway."