HOPEWELL: District approves random drug tests in schools


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Hopewell Valley Central High School students will be subject to random drug tests, under a policy and companion regulation that were approved by the Hopewell Valley Regional School District Board of Education Monday night.

The school board voted unanimously to adopt the random drug testing policy, which had been under discussion for several months, following a public hearing. However, one resident voiced her objections to it.

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“I don’t understand the problem,” Theresa Vogler said, stating her opposition to the random drug testing program. She suggested testing students for whom there is “probable cause” to believe they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Only students who are involved in sports or after-school clubs are included in this “intrusion,” Vogler said. “Wouldn’t it be fair” to include all students, and not just those who play sports or join after-school clubs and activities, she said.

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Smith replied that it was not an easy decision to make. A majority of students who were polled last year indicated that they believe illegal drugs are a problem in the school district, he said.

“I would argue, we do have a problem. I gain no pleasure [implementing the policy]. We do this because we are for the students. Not every parent has a great relationship with their child. Like it or not, we become ‘de facto’ parents,” Smith said.

The superintendent said that 93 to 94 percent of students at the high school take part in sports or other extra- or co-curricular activities, which is the requirement for being subject to random drug testing. Students who hold an on-campus parking permit also are enrolled in the program.

Smith said that 23 of the 24 students who were caught with illegal drugs last year were involved in sports or other activities, adding that “it’s not the students who you think [are using drugs]. It’s the students who are taking AP courses [who also take drugs].”

School board vice president Lisa Wolff said she believes the “primary reason” for implementing the random drug testing policy is for its deterrent effect. If students know they may be chosen at random to be tested for illegal drugs, they will be less likely to ingest them, she said.

Wolff said the school district experienced a similar situation with alcoholic beverages. Students would go to school-sponsored parties while they were intoxicated. Once school district officials began to screen students before they entered the social function, “it stopped,” she said.

“We are not trying to catch students,” Wolff said. The goal is deterrence. When there is peer pressure, it is easier to say no because of the random drug tests, she said.

Under the new random drug testing program, students who do not meet the requirements and who may want to be part of it can choose to “opt in” for random drug testing. It would apply to a handful of students.

Students who want to “opt out” can do so by filling out an “activity drop form” that indicates he or she will not be taking part in sports or other after-school activities, and will give up the parking permit.

Under the program, students will be assigned a number, which will be shared with an outside laboratory that will select students at random to be tested. It is expected that six students per week will be chosen every week, or about 240 students annually out of the 1,200 students enrolled at the high school.

Although the list of drugs has not been determined, a typical random drug test “panel” may test for marijuana, cocaine, opioids, amphetamines, MDMA or ecstasy, GHB, steroids, synthetic cannabinoids, and alcohol.

The selected students will be escorted to the nurse’s office to submit a urine sample. The nurse will test the sample, and if it tests “positive” for the presence of drugs, it will be sent to a lab for confirmation. Measures will be taken to ensure that students cannot cheat and throw off the results.

If a student tests positive for drugs, he or she must attend at least five counseling sessions with the student assistance counselor within 30 calendar days. The student may attend a prevention/education program or complete an in-patient substance abuse rehabilitation program approved by the state Department of Health.

The student will be re-tested after completing the five counseling sessions. If the student tests positive again, he or she will lose privileges, such as the ability to take part in sports or after-school clubs and activities, for up to 15 days. Parking privileges will be suspended for 30 days.

The student will also have to attend a minimum of 10 counseling sessions with the student assistance counselor within 45 calendar days. He or she must attend prevention/education programs or complete an in-patient drug/alcohol rehabilitation program approved by the state Department of Health.

In all cases, the test results will remain confidential and will not become part of a student’s record for college or job applications. The record will be locked in a separate file, away from the student’s regular file.

The school district will not share the student’s individual test results with police. Federal rules restrict any use of the test results to investigate or prosecute any student, according to the random drug testing policy.

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