LHISD approves drug testing program

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

The Liberty Hill ISD Board of Trustees approved a policy Monday that allows the high school to begin drug testing in January 2019.

Liberty Hill High School Principal Jonathan Bever presented the agreement and policy to the Board for consideration, and it was approved unanimously, with Board member David Nix absent.

Bever said the impetus for the program was to keep a focus on student safety and well-being.

“I want the kids to be safe and protected here in the school,” Bever said. “I like the idea of the swabbing because it’s a deterrent, but it is also accurate.”

Testing, which will be conducted by Melody’s Southwest Consortium, will be done by oral swab. It will not detect drugs in a subject’s system as long as a urine sample, but is highly accurate in detecting drug use within a day or two.

“Saliva testing includes a smaller window of detection,” Bever said. “Most are really reliable in detecting very recent drug use, occurring within 24 to 48-hour period. Urine is going to be usually a couple of more days.”

Bever said he was very comfortable with Southwest Consortium because of the company’s openness to questions and concerns he raised.

“Southwest Consortium actually spent quite a bit of time with me, answering questions I had,” Bever said. “They talked to me about storage and lab processes, and also about accuracy. I was concerned about privacy and they were very clear on the fact that it was very private and was never given to third parties.”

Bever said the protection of student confidentiality was a big concern.

“Confidentiality is a big thing,” he said. “In talking with the company, talking with the references the company had, they are really good with confidentiality and it is very controlled. We’re not going to have any type of school employees involved.”

The program, first discussed late last Spring is being put in place for January because it has just taken a while for him and the board to feel comfortable with all of the details.

“I like the idea of waiting until January,” he said. “The springtime will just give us some time to experiment with this company.”

He also emphasized that this program was not a reaction to a large drug problem in the district, but is to serve as a deterrent and safety measure.

“We don’t see a lot of drug issues at this school,” he said. “I think there is drug use at high schools all over the place. Dr. Hart and I spent a lot of time talking about this and I really think it is going to be preventive, it is going to help be a deterrent. I think it is an opportunity to show that we want to help whenever we can. I don’t see it as a big problem, but I think doing this will help. It provides us an opportunity for it not to become a big problem.”

The program, along with other measures being put in place, is a piece of the bigger plan for safety and security.

“With everything we’re doing in the building, in looking for some police support as well as the drug dogs that come in, kids know we are just trying to keep them safe,” Bever said. “I’m concerned with the safety of the kids, and if we can help them we should. I don’t have all the answers, but as we’re working with these kids we can definitely help them.”

The program will test students with parking permits and participants in extracurricular activities.

“If you want to participate in these things, then you have to participate in the drug testing,” Bever said.

The contract is for testing no less than 10 times in a year, and will be done randomly, with the company selecting the groups of students to be tested.

Penalties for a positive test on the first offense is 21 days suspension from parking privileges and any extracurricular activities. At the end of the 21 days, the student will be tested again and with a negative test will be reinstated. A second positive test will result in a 42-day suspension from activities, and after a third, the student will be removed from those activities.

According to the policy, testing will screen for marijuana, cocaine, methadone, amphetamines and opiates. Before a student is eligible to participate in extracurricular activities or receive a parking permit, they will have to sign a consent form annually to be subject to the rules of the testing program. Parents of students under 18 will also have to sign the consent form.

The policy also outlines the activities covered under the testing program: “School-sponsored extracurricular activities for which testing is required include UIL athletics, UIL academics, band, cheerleading, choir, theater, dance, FFA, FCCLA, DECA, Student Council, and National Honor Society.”

The cost to the school district is $16 per test. The contract runs through May 2020.

“In the agreement, we can change policies pertaining to the agreement anytime we want,” Bever said. “We reserve the right to cancel it anytime we want.”

A new department
Liberty Hill ISD got a financial boost this week in its plan to create a district police department, when Assistant Superintendent Chad Pirtle announced to the Board that the City of Liberty Hill was willing to fund $150,000 in start-up costs to assist the district.

Pirtle and Hart met with City Administrator Greg Boatright and Council Members Ron Rhea and Liz Rundzieher on Nov. 2 to discuss the options for a partnership.

“We had a very productive meeting,” Pirtle said. “In the meeting, the City indicated it was not interested in moving forward with a school resource officer program through the Liberty Hill Police Department, but would like to provide finances to the school district to help fund the cost of the creation of a Liberty Hill ISD Police Department.”

The City committed to funding up to $150,000 toward the creation of a department.

“This would not be an ongoing expense to the City, but rather a reimbursement of expenses,” Pirtle said, adding that the district is thankful to the City for its willingness to assist.

“Now that we have this information, at the next meeting I feel pretty confident we can have a plan with more details regarding specific timelines, specific finances and a resolution to potentially adopt to move forward with a Liberty Hill ISD Police Department,” Pirtle said.

In May, Pirtle presented a variety of options to the board for increased security or police presence on district campuses. The estimated cost at that time for a first-year department with a chief and one officer would be about $280,000 for salaries and start-up expenses.

The first step is for the board to approve a resolution to create a police department,” Hart said.

Pirtle added that before the district can apply, the board must approve the minutes from the meeting when the resolution was passed to be included in the application. The application is made to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement.

There are nearly 200 school districts in Texas that have their own police department. Area districts include Bastrop ISD, Austin ISD, and Hutto ISD.

Once the application is approved, Pirtle said the next step would be to hire a chief who would then begin the process of getting policies in place.

Hart said moving in this new direction looked like the best option for everyone.

“I thought a police department all along was the best move, but we wanted to explore all the options to make sure before we made a big decision like that,” he said. “They’re helping but they are not involved and that’s the best way for everyone.”

Making it official
LHHS Principal Jonathan Bever – who has been serving in the position with an interim tag since June – was named officially to the position Monday.

For Hart, after looking at the first few months of the school year with Bever on the job, it only made sense to stick with what was working well.

“Let’s make him the interim, let’s get his priorities set, open the school and then just take another look at it later, we didn’t have time to go through a search process then,” Hart said. “We put him in and it has been one of the best years the high school has had in a long time. We watched him and it was like a test drive. He made great decisions, he called and asked the right questions and handled the tough decisions very well. Morale is good, he has a lot of support at the high school and there was no sense in going through a search.”

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