COLUMBIA — The Harrisburg R-VIII School District is taking the "Just Say No" mantra into its own hands.
A random drug testing policy for certain students is in discussion for the school district northwest of Columbia. The district has made public the current draft of the policy.
"If a student loves playing basketball or loves being a member of the student council, the random drug testing policy provides them with a reason to say no," said Sean Cochran, president of the Harrisburg R-VIII School Board.
District Superintendent Lynn Proctor called the draft a work in progress. She expects tweaks and changes in the coming months.
"We are currently in the policy discussion and public feedback stage," Proctor said. "It has been a board meeting agenda item for several months now."
A random drug testing policy was up for discussion several years ago, but at the time, the school board was also figuring out program budget cuts so the issue was tabled, she said.
"The policy idea was regenerated several months ago after several situations of long-term student suspensions occurred in relation to drug possession," Proctor said.
Proctor said a committee to discuss the policy has been organized. The committee comprises school board members, parents and other members of the school district.
"The committee looked into other policies, generated discussion and then drafted the proposed policy," Proctor said. "From there, the committee wanted public input."
She said the district has held one public forum on the proposed policy. Community members were also able to comment at an event called "School Matters" in which any school-related topic could be discussed.
Details of the draft
According to the draft, the district wants to adopt this policy for Harrisburg students in grades seven through 12 who participate in off-season and in-season extracurricular activities, co-curricular activities and the student parking program, which grants students parking permits at the school.
A Supreme Court decision has dictated that school districts cannot subject all students to random drug testing, Proctor said.
"The policy is not connected to the actual school day but only to students who wish to participate in privilege activities such as extracurricular activities and the student parking program," she said.
The draft identifies eight objectives for the policy including establishing conduct for district students, identifying students who are misusing drugs so that intervention plans can be implemented at home and in school and sending a clear message that the district is committed to eliminating student chemical abuse.
According to the draft, the random drug testing policy will consist of the following procedure:
- All students participating in activities and/or the student driver program will be given a copy of the Drug Testing Participation and Consent Form. The form will be read, signed and dated by the student and guardian(s).
- Upon submitting the form, the student will remain a part of the drug-testing program until another form is submitted requesting removal from it.
- Once the student has been removed, he or she becomes ineligible for the extra activities for 365 days and his or her name is removed from the drug-testing pool.
- Students will be required to submit an updated signed form at the beginning of each school year. If the student fails to do so, he or she will be removed from the drug-testing program, thus submitting to the year-long waiting period before opting back in.
If the student participates in an extracurricular activity, a school club or organization or the student parking program, he or she will be assigned an identification number by a third-party drug screening company and placed into a middle school or high school pool, according to the draft.
From there, the drug screening company will randomly select 5 percent of the identification numbers from the middle and high school pools and a minimum of five alternative identification numbers to take potential absences into account.
"The policy has a very specific protocol," Proctor said. "It's important to know exactly what the policy procedures will look like."
According to the draft, the consequences of a positive drug test vary in severity for first, second and third offenses:
- First offense: The student shall be suspended from 20 percent of all total games for that season, 20 percent of the total club or organization activities or 20 percent of parking privileges for the 149-day school year.
- Second offense: The student shall be suspended from 50 percent of all total games for that season, 50 percent of the total club or organization activities or 50 percent of parking privileges for the school year.
- Third offense: The student may be able to attend practices, games and club or organization events but will no longer be able to participate. The student will forfeit all parking privileges.
Community feedback sought
Cochran said that, as a school board member, he has heard both positive and negative feedback but that more of it was positive.
"The stage we are at right now is gathering information," Cochran said. "We want to take all the concerns from the community, hear them and continue to move forward."
He said the best way to share feedback is to contact the district's administration office, 1000 S. Harris St., Harrisburg, MO 65256, or 573-875-5604.
Email addresses for school board members can be found on the district's website, harrisburg.k12.mo.us, under "School Board Announcements."
Proctor said the policy is essentially in the works to provide students with a reason to say no to drug use.
"It's important for our patrons, parents and guardians to understand that this program is being designed as a prevention tool rather than a punitive tool," she said.
Proctor said that if the policy is passed, it will tentatively take effect for the 2012-13 school year.