The Grand County School District Board of Education is considering when and how to test high school students for drugs if they are engaged in extracurricular activities, and how such testing — which can be expensive — ought to be paid for.
But discussion of a proposed policy guiding such testing gave way to broader questions at a meeting of the board and other district officials on Wednesday, Dec. 13.
“This is for extracurricular activities, and our problem is not just extracurricular, but our general population, and we need to look at other things,” said Board Member Peggy Nissen.
Those “other things,” for Nissen, included making sure comprehensive drug-prevention education programs — not just testing — were in place, and even the possibility of making the high school a closed-campus.
The policy under consideration would randomly test at least 10 percent of participating students each week. This is a change from an earlier version of the policy, which would have tested all participating students prior to the start of the activity’s season.
That former version seemed to still be favored by Superintendent J.T. Stroder, as he talked about it at the meeting.
“We felt the intent of this policy is to be a deterrent, not a consequence,” he said. “If students knew they were going to be tested before their sports season, it would be more of a deterrent than random testing.”
With random testing, Stroder said, students might “gamble,” playing the odds that their name would be drawn for a test; “Whereas, if they knew it’s coming up and there’s going to be a test, they would refrain from doing anything.”
While the policy is still under consideration and has yet to be finalized, the pre-season testing had been stricken from the language of the proposal.
Cost is also an issue.
The cost for a single urine test is around $37. Then, if that test comes back positive, the sample would be sent to a lab for confirmation testing at an additional cost of $22.
It would add up to around $10,000 a year, estimated Grand County High School Principal Stephen Hren.
But, Stroder said, “Our opinion is, you know, if it’s preventative of drug use, then it is money well spent.”
Under consideration is an idea that at least part of the cost of testing could be subsidized by students’ activity fees.
The policy consideration is part of a sweeping review of all of the district’s policies, Stroder told The Times-Independent after the meeting.
“When I came [here], all of our policies, some of them were really outdated. Some of them hadn’t been updated since the ‘90s,” he said. “Just to make sure we’re up to state code, we’re updating all of our policies. It’ll probably take about a year.”
Drug testing of all students probably will not make its way into the revised policies, Stroder said, largely because such policies elsewhere have led to challenges based on property rights.
The U.S. Supreme Court has seemed to agree with such challenges, ruling in 1985 (New Jersey v. TLO), for instance, that random testing of a general student population constituted unlawful search and seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
However, the court on more than one occasion has held policies of extracurricular-activity testing to be constitutional, on the basis that participation in those activities is voluntary.
“It’s really hard to do any testing outside of extracurricular activities,” Stroder said.
One substance abuse-prevention measure to be expected, however, is more frequent K9 drug-dog searches, Stroder said, which could help make other decisions such as not allowing students to leave school during school hours, including for lunch.
Some people are concerned that being able to leave campus during the day allows students to bring drugs with them when they return.
“If we run the dog six times after lunch and find drugs every time, then, yeah, that’s going to contribute to a discussion of closing campus,” Stroder said.