Woodbridge school officials considering instituting random drug testing policy

WOODBRIDGE — Administrators in the Woodbridge Township School District are considering the implementation of a policy that would subject students to random testing for alcohol and drug use.

“We have a drug problem in our schools,” Superintendent of Schools Robert Zega said during a June 25 meeting that was held to discuss the proposed policy. “We are trying to do something to prevent students from abusing their bodies.”

The meeting was held at John F. Kennedy Memorial High School in the Iselin section of Woodbridge.

In the school district, an average of two students per month test positive for being under the influence, and students have been found to be in possession of drugs and/or alcohol for use and/or distribution in the schools, according to officials.

Woodbridge is rated among the top 30 towns in New Jersey with the most opioid cases, Zega said.

Narcan, or naloxone, is a medication used for the treatment of an opioid emergency such as an overdose.

“Twelve current students or district graduates have died from drug overdoses in the last eight years,” the superintendent said.

In Middlesex County, death rates associated with heroin have increased 420 percent in the past four years. Heroin is the top drug causing substance admissions, Zega said.

The school district’s current under suspicion drug testing policy applies to all students while the random drug testing policy would apply to students involved in extracurricular activities or who have parking privileges. The current test is done via a mouth swab.

Board of Education President Jonathan Triebwasser said the drug problem and the stigma of “not my child” is frustrating.

The current policy “may be wrong and it may not work, and we may have to revisit it,” he said, “but to do nothing is unacceptable.”

School officials hope the proposed random alcohol and drug testing policy will give students a reason to say “no” when presented with a situation with drugs or alcohol.

“More importantly, the parents will know,” Zega said.

Triebwasser said red flags will go up if some students stop participating in extracurricular activities because of the random drug testing policy, which would be in addition to the current under suspicion drug testing policy, which follows state mandated guidelines.

Parents and guardians would be permitted to opt their child into the random drug testing program if the student is not involved in extracurricular activities and/or does not have parking privileges.

“The names selected are generated at random,” Zega said. “If we have 1,000 students in the pool, legally we can test at least 10 percent of the students.”

Zega said administrators are not out to target anyone. Legally, the district can test a number of students from a pool.

“If we could test all the students, we would,” he said.

A student who is tested at random and is found to be under the influence would not be suspended from school. A student in the testing pool may have their name selected more than once.

According to the proposed policy, for a first violation, the student would be removed from their extracurricular activity for a short term. Parents and/or guardians will be called and in a two-hour window, the student would have to be tested in a laboratory to determine whether or not the swab results were accurate.

The student would be required to complete five counseling sessions with a student assistant counselor and would have to agree to follow any appropriate treatment recommendations made by the counselor, including a drug/alcohol in-patient rehabilitation program. An information release form would have to be completed for the counselor to be able to communicate with the rehabilitation provider. The parent/guardian is responsible for the cost of the rehabilitation program.

The student would be required to submit a negative swab test before returning to the extracurricular activity. The student would have to provide a physician’s written clearance to return to school. The student would be suspended from the team, activity or parking privilege until all the requirements are satisfied.

For a second and third violation, the student will be removed from participation in the extracurricular activities for 30 days and 60 days, respectively. The student will be subject to further drug testing for the remainder of the school year.

The student would be required to attend a minimum of 10 after-school counseling sessions with a student assistance coordinator and must agree to follow any appropriate treatment recommendations. The student must submit a negative swab test before returning to the extracurricular activity. The student would be required to provide a physician’s written clearance to return to school. The student will be suspended from the team, activity or parking privilege until all requirements are satisfied, according to the proposed policy.

The cost for in-house random drug testing is estimated at $10 per test swab. For example, if the school district used a total of 4,153 students among the three high schools and tested 10 percent — 415 students — the cost to the district is estimated at $4,150.

Zega said student assistant counselors such as Erin Sikora at JFK Memorial and Jacqueline Giordano at Colonia High School are his references in the schools.

Sikora said that during training, educators were shown items which have been used to hide drugs. The items included an iced tea can, a body spray bottle, lip balm, a water bottle, a dictionary, a hairbrush, a tampon and a lighter.

Administrators said vaping is a new concern, as the substance used consists of concentrated liquid hash oils that do not smell like marijuana. They said the liquid can be disguised in pens and key fobs.

The next public meeting concerning the proposed random testing policy will be held at 6:30 p.m. July 9 at the Avenel Middle School. For more information visit www.woodbridge.k12.nj.us.

Contact Kathy Chang at kchang@newspapermediagroup.com.