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

By Lee Revis
Editor, Valdez Star 

Current school drug test policy changes coming

Review committee releases recommendations to school board


April 15, 2015

Revisions to the school district's existing student drug testing policy are still under review.

The board of education had been slated to vote on revisions to the board policy (BP) and administrative rules (AR) as a first reading Monday night during its regularly scheduled meeting. The move was delayed due to the fact the recommendations were not made available to the board until late Sunday night and had not been reviewed by the committee tasked with recommended changes to the program. Nor had it been reviewed by an attorney.

"I would strongly urge us to postpone this from tonight," board president Joe Prax said during a one-hour work session held before the board of education's regularly scheduled meeting Monday night.

Earlier in the school year, district superintendent Jim Nygaard recommended the board take a second look at its policy - first implemented by the board in 2005 – which he said was troubling.

The current policy, BP 5131.6, calls for school personnel to refer students they suspect of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol to school administrators for off-site drug urinalysis testing. Students that test positive are suspended from school and risk loss of school credit and other measures that critics say will not foster positive change for students with substance abuse issues.

The proposed revisions, presented by Gilson Middle School principal Rod Morrison, is four pages long and is based on the policy used by the Sitka school district.

"It's pretty much the Sitka policy with our language inserted in there," Morrison told the board.

The revised policy, as presented Monday, drops requirements in the old policy which called for two-day specialized training for school personnel to detect signs of drug and alcohol impairment which has become difficult to acquire and implement. It also recommends students that test positive for drug use be able to serve suspensions at the school district's administrative office and receive credit for school work. It also contains an in-house drug education component.

"This would be an option," Morrison said. "We thought it was real important to send that kid (students suspended for testing positive for drug use) to the district office."

The new proposal calls for the use of saliva based drug-screening on school premises if a school administrator suspects a student of drug use. A urine-based test at the medical clinic would be called for if a student's saliva test is positive.

Many questions on the proposed policy revisions remained unanswered during the work session.

During the work session, it was clear that board members had not yet been sold on the new policy – or how it would be implemented if passed.

Questions included – but were not limited to – what training school staff would receive to recognize possible symptoms of student drug abuse and the fact that neither saliva nor urine-based drug tests can detect all types of banned substances such as intoxicating fumes from inhalants like paint and gasoline or so-called designer drugs known under brand names like K2 and Spice.

"You still can't pick up inhalants," board member Dr. Kathy Todd said and noted that chemical drug test are inherently unreliable for many substances. "You can't pick up these new things they're constantly inventing."

At a drug policy informational meeting held by the district last January, Morrison said that he had 10 students referred for drug testing since the policy's passage and that only half actually tested positive for drug use.

Prax also reminded the board that sports and activities drug policies needed to be in line with the district-wide policy.

"They've got to mesh," he said.

There was also debate on improving district-wide drug education curriculum and debate on the current policy which mandates the district contact the Valdez Police Dept. when a student tests positive.

Police Chief Bill Comer, who is also a school board member, felt that policy should be eliminated. He also said the police department could provide training in helping staff distinguish between reasonable suspicion of drug use and the definition of "probable cause."

Valdez Star file photo

Superintendent Jim Nygaard first introduced the concept of in-house student drug testing with a saliva-based device last year. His proposal to test all students in school activities failed but the concept using the saliva-based tests for the district's current testing policy is up for consideration by the board of education.

"Cops can provide training on reasonable suspicion," he said. "We have to train you how to say it and feel comfortable actually articulating it."

Rod Schug, principal of Valdez High School, advocated passing the revisions to the rules and policy.

"This is short, concise, easy to follow," he said.

Nygaard said he hoped to bring the revisions back to the board at its next scheduled meeting April 27, with a second reading and passage at its first board meeting in May.

Late last year, the board of education rejected a proposed policy that called for random drug testing of all students participating in school activities.


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