Drug testing policy passes first reading
School board votes 5-2 to push proposal forward
Valdez Star photo
Superintendent Jim Nygaard with a saliva-based drug test during the first reading Monday night of the proposed student drug testing policy
The board of education voted Monday night to pass a controversial policy that will mandate drug testing for all students in grades 6-12 that participate in school activities – despite overwhelming public testimony against the proposal.
The policy must pass a second reading, slated for December 8, before it can be implemented.
Four people in attendance, including Aaron Baczuk, the Valdez Police Dept.'s resource officer who has an office at Gilson Middle School, spoke in favor of the program's implementation; at least nineteen members of the public spoke against the policy.
The reasons cited in opposition to the program were vast and diverse but a common concern repeated throughout the public input segment was the possibility that the population of students most likely to benefit from participating in school activities – those already dabbling with drugs or those who already have a drug habit – might opt to not participate in sports or other activities associated with drug testing.
"This is a punitive policy, not rehabilitative," Thane Miller, a parent, testified.
Others worried that the drug test under consideration, a saliva-based test that detects the presence of marijuana, amphetamines, meth, opiates, PCP and cocaine, will only push the student population that experiments with drugs to opt for more dangerous alternatives such as synthetic drugs like bath salts.
"Teenagers find a way to do what they want to do," said a letter to the school board that board member Alan Sorum read out loud before public testimony began.
The fact the test contains samples of DNA, the appearance that testing students for drugs confers a presumption of guilt, views that it is an invasion of the privacy of students and families, potential lawsuits and the invasive nature of the testing were also common these of opponents.
"I'm deeply disturbed" about the policy parent Mark Swanson said, stating that he had spent his 25-year career as a drug enforcement officer. "It may be well intentioned but it's wrong, it's terribly wrong."
A number of people testifying, including students, said the portions of the policy designed to protect privacy will do little to actually maintain privacy for students that test positive.
Earlier in the meeting, it was pointed out that part of the policy would require students returning to an activity after testing positive would be required to write essays against drug abuse, but then will be required to read it to other students in activities before returning to the playing field or other activity, such as band or choir.
"It's a small town," student Preston Fifarek testified, "It will get out."
Those opposing the policy said they found the testing to be invasive; those in favor said it is not invasive at all.
Wyatt Duncan, a recent Valdez High School graduate, said he took the test at Gilson Middle School and did not find it invasive. Duncan also testified that when he participated in school sports other students he believed were violating the school's tobacco, alcohol and drug policy (TAD) were given more playing time that he got, when he had followed the rules.
Current student athletes Marian Wamsley and Madison Fleming, who is also the student representative on the board of education, voiced opposition to the drug testing policy.
The cost of the test in a time when budgetary problems have forced a number of activities to go under the chopping block or face reductions for lack of four or five thousand dollars also bothered a number of those opposed to the policy.
Valdez Star photo
Valdez High School students Patrick Connor, left, and Preston Fifarek, right, had a long list of questions regarding the proposed student drug testing policy.
Nygaard said Monday night the cost of the saliva test is between $12 and $13 each and 5 percent of students in activities – five to eight students - will be tested weekly while sports or activities are active. If only five students were tested weekly beginning in January – and none required a more expensive secondary test – the district will shell out over $1,440.
Supporters say the cost is negligible, while opponents point out that Native Youth Olympics were almost cut because $4,000 in funding was not available.
Board members Kathy Todd and Alan Sorum voted against the policy. Board members Bill Connell, Bill Comer, Dolores Gard, and Darryl Verfaillie voted for it."
The district will be hosting an informational community meeting on the topic at Valdez High School on December 4 from 7-8:30 p.m.
The second reading of the policy is slated for December 8 during the board's regularly scheduled meeting at the Valdez City Council Chambers.