The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

By Lee Revis
Editor, Valdez Star 

Drug testing at schools further discussed by board

Superintendent keeps issue on front burner during school board meeting


Valdez Star photo

Superintendent Jim Nygaard

Discussions on whether or not Valdez City Schools should begin drug testing students moved ahead Monday night during the board of education's regular meeting.

The push comes from Superintendent Jim Nygaard.

The board of education was non-committal during the talks, which were on the agenda for the meeting under discussion items.

Outgoing board president Anita Fannin, whose tenure on the board will expire after the municipal elections in early October, noted that previous attempts to implement a drug testing policy proved to be unpopular during public hearings.

"We got beat up bad," she told Nygaard during Monday's meeting.

Board member Dr. Kathy Todd said she had been approached by parents on the topic.

"I've heard some negatives from parents," she said, noting that the information made public so far is scant. "I think people are going to want to know a lot of details."

This did not phase Nygaard.

"If I save one kid and end up with two bloody noses, it's worth it," he said.

While no official policy – or its cost - has been crafted for public presentation Nygaard did give the board information on what the proposed policy may look like.

He said he is favoring the use of the less-invasive saliva tests.

"I'm advocating for the saliva test," he said, noting it is less invasive.

Preliminary costs for the tests are $13 each for saliva tests, versus $5 each for urine tests. Alcohol swabs, a more limited test, cost $2 each.

"Dollars and cents, I don't see it to be a huge burden," he said.

Nygaard said that in the event a student tests positive for drug use - he calls such results non-negatives - the test can immediately be sent to the test manufacturer for further testing and verification at a cost of $20.

It was also unclear whether the student body as a whole for grades 6 through 12 would be included or if the testing would only apply to students involved in school activities such as sports.

Nygaard did say the company that manufactures the tests has a program that can generate random names for sampling if a new policy is adopted that calls for a percentage of random drug test sampling.

He also spoke of the proposal as if it will be implemented.

"Collectively, we need to get together with the kids" to let them know what's coming he told the board.

He also told the board he would bring more solid numbers on costs, details for a his proposal of which students will be tested and a start date at the board's regularly scheduled meeting of Sept. 22, prior to the October municipal elections.

The date matters due to the fact that the board will see three new board members assume three-year terms after the election due to the fact that the three board members with terms that are expiring are not running for reelection.

Nygaard said he hoped to have the information circulating before the elections to allow the incoming board members and the public to have plenty of time to study the issue before public hearings are held.

Two weeks ago, 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.

That policy calls for drug testing students in grades 6 – 12 and it was presented under the umbrella of health and safety rather than a view towards punishment.

"It's not about sticking kids with a big penalty," he said, noting that what the district does with the information after a positive test also needs to be addressed before a program can be implemented.

The topic last addressed by the school board two years ago when an apparent uptick in drug use by students was seen and it quickly became a hot-button issue.

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.

No school districts in Alaska routinely test students for drug use and Nygaard said the district's attorney, John Sedor, will help guide the district through the process.

"With the drug testing policy – it's an education for all of us," Nygaard said.

Outgoing board member Dan Walker said the topic is likely to generate a great deal of interest from the community and he would expect a big crowd when hearings are set.

"I hope this place would be filled," he said.

No firm dates have been set for public hearings on the drug testing proposal.

A glitch in city's equipment prevented the meeting from being broadcast as planned.


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