As LHISD considers drug testing, extent of substance abuse unclear
Editor’s Note: The is the second in a two-part series on the issue of drug testing in Liberty Hill ISD.
By Rachel Madison
When Vickie Peterson was running for a position on the school board in 2017, she invited a group of parents to her home to discuss their top concerns, one of which was drug use in Liberty Hill schools.
“Everyone stated concerns here and there, but each of them gave their top two concerns, which were drugs, and safety and security,” Peterson said. “To hear it in volumes from everyone was big. Each mom had a real-life example that their child had heard talk about drugs at a weekend party or had seen drugs being shared at school with their own eyes. If we don’t have a huge problem today, we will have a huge problem in the future. It’s our responsibility.”
The Liberty Hill ISD is considering implementation of a random drug testing program beginning in the 2018-2019 school year. Various ideas are being discussed, including testing students involved in extracurricular activities and those who drive to school.
Liberty Hill High School Principal Mario Bye told trustees earlier this year that program costs would vary based on the types of substances the test seeks to identify.
Trustee Clint Stephenson said he doesn’t necessarily believe it’s the district’s responsibility to drug test students, but he does think if students are going to represent Liberty Hill through extracurriculars, they should be held to a higher standard than everyone else.
“Hopefully, we’d also be providing a resource for parents who have no clue or don’t realize that little Johnny or Janie has a problem,” he said. “We’ll try to help those kids change the path they’re heading on.”
Board President Clay Cole agreed.
“I wouldn’t say it’s our responsibility to test the students, but again we want to look at ways we can improve the safety and well-being of students,” Cole said. “If drug testing does that, then it’s something I’m in favor of.”
Superintendent Rob Hart said he couldn’t answer whether or not a drug testing program at LHHS would be to prevent or address a drug problem, but that its implementation would be to “provide incentive to not participate in drug activity.”
Trustee Anthony Buck believes the program would be a preventative measure.
“A lot of folks say they’ve heard a few things about drugs in Liberty Hill, but I haven’t heard as much from my kids or those who run in their circles,” he said. “I’m sure it’s out there, but I think we have a pretty good reputation overall.”
Although administration and the school board hope to be preventing a future drug problem, some students at LHHS recently affirmed the views of parents shared by Peterson — there may already be a problem.
One LHHS student, who is identified here as Student One to protect an identity, said there is definitely a lot of drug use at the high school.
“In the student body there are kids that people know use drugs, but it would really surprise you how many other kids use drugs,” Student One said. “There are a lot of kids who are stand-out students and great athletes that people would look at and think they don’t use drugs, but they do.”
The student added that about 95 percent of drug abuse at LHHS is marijuana.
“I’ve heard of a few kids that have abused prescription drugs, but maybe only two or three out of the entire senior class,” the student said. “Other than that, a lot of kids drink and smoke weed on the weekends. People get [weed] in states where it’s legal and bring it to Texas and kids buy it from them, and there are also people that grow it here and people buy it from them and a lot of kids get it from those people. There are people in Liberty Hill that sell it.”
Student One also said that if random drug testing were a possibility for everyone who bought a parking pass, it would cover most of the drug users.
“Pretty much everyone has bought a parking pass,” Student One said. “If they had that as their basis, I would think they could definitely be able to find most of [the drug users].”
The student added that counseling would be a good idea for students who receive a positive on a test.
“There have been kids in the senior class this year who have been caught with things on them at school or were caught coming to school high and they were punished for it,” the student said. “There have been a couple of cases where those kids have just dropped out, because if they’re going to be punished, they would rather drop out, cut off their high school career and get their GED instead. I think an alternate route like counseling is a good idea.”
Another LHHS student, Student Two, whose name has also been changed for anonymity, said there’s not a huge drug problem at LHHS, but there are students who use drugs.
“The amount of people that I know who use drugs is so few,” Student Two said. “There’s not people who are constantly being introduced to it or using. It’s just the same people using drugs over and over again. As far as prescription drugs and stuff like that really have a tendency to mess people up, that’s nonexistent. It’s mostly just people smoking weed.”
Student Two said randomly drug testing students based on extracurriculars they are involved in or those who have parking passes would cover “90 percent of those who do drugs.”
“You don’t really hear about people doing it to the point of being in danger as far as overdosing, you just hear about them doing it at party setting,” Student Two said. “I also think a lot of it is happening after school before kids are going home, so most [drug use] could probably be stopped just by parents being aware of their kids when they get home, in my opinion. And in most cases, the people who are under the influence of these drugs tend to be students in middle- to upper-class families and not exclusively low-income families like most people would think.”
Hart said that there have been a few issues with drugs at both the junior high and high school over the last 10 years since he’s been superintendent, but it hasn’t been rampant.
“There are a few incidents a year,” he said. “A lot of times we’ll find [drugs] in cars. It’s not been something that keeps us busy all the time. It’s not at that rate.”
And because of that, some anti-drug use measures are already in place in the district. Hart said a company called Interquest brings in detection canines 15 to 18 times randomly throughout the school year at both the high school and the junior high. Dogs sniff parking lots, lockers, hallways, bathrooms and auxiliary facilities. Classrooms are also typically emptied of students and dogs sniff backpacks and jackets as well, Hart said, because they are not allowed by law to sniff people.
Implementing a random drug testing program would let students know they’re being watched and expected to do the right things and make the right choices, Buck said.
“If we can help out one kid to keep them on the straight and narrow it will be worth it,” he said.
Trustee David Nix agreed that the program would be executed primarily to prevent.
“It certainly will catch some that are in that situation and then hopefully we can steer them toward the assistance they need,” he said. “We don’t want any kid to be using drugs, but hopefully it’ll be more preventative in nature and provide kids with a reason to never start.”
Stephenson agreed that the program would be used for prevention as well as addressing any current problems.
“I don’t know if we have any students using drugs there for a fact, but more than likely we do,” he said. “I’m not saying that we’ve got a bunch of drug users in extracurricular activities, but it would definitely be a deterrent. They may feel peer pressure to start, and this gives them an out and a reason to tell somebody no.”
Trustee Scott Lindquist said because the district hasn’t done any drug testing before, he isn’t sure if the new program will be preventing or addressing a drug problem.
“I want to address both,” he said. “If there are kids doing drugs, we want to address that, but if they aren’t, we want to prevent it. The whole point of starting a testing program is to prevent the kids from getting into it and help those who are already in it to get out of it.”
Hart hopes the Board will be able to decide on the format of the drug testing program during the summer, so that it can begin when the 2018-2019 school year starts in August. Many of the board members agreed that they’d like to have a program in place by then.
“It’s a matter of finding what fits our district best,” Lindquist said. “Until we can get that information in front of us and lay out a strategic plan and learn the costs, I couldn’t say what the time frame would be. I would love to have one in place by [the beginning of next school year].”