LHISD considering random drug testing program

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Editor’s Note: The is the first in a two-part series on the issue of drug testing in Liberty Hill ISD.

By Rachel Madison

Liberty Hill Independent School District may implement a random drug testing program to deter students from using illegal substances.

The discussion started in March after the Board of Trustees heard a presentation on the benefits of such a program. The presentation, given by Liberty Hill High School Principal Mario Bye, provided the board with information on how other school districts in Texas similar in demographics to LHISD utilized random drug testing programs.

Superintendent Dr. Rob Hart says the district’s implementation of a drug testing program is dependent on cost, which can be controlled by what drugs the district chooses to test for.

“This would be an illegal or prescription drug testing program,” he said. “Naturally the more panels you select, the more expensive it is. The cost would be per test, and we’d be able to control how often and how many tests are given. We’re looking at a lot of different companies.”

Hart added that districts no longer test for anabolic steroid use. There was a program implemented by the University Interscholastic League in the early 2000s, and LHISD was selected for the testing because of the success it had seen in many of its athletics programs.

“We got selected [for testing] every now and then, but the tests were always negative,” Hart said. “After so many years they discontinued the program.”

Hart said Bye is looking into what the cost of the program would be and is continuing conversations with other school districts to see what panels they’ve found most useful to run. During his presentation, Bye estimated a program would cost LHISD $5,000 to $10,000 a year, but he added that there are grants available to support drug testing programs.

Board member Vickie Peterson said she’s very serious about implementing a drug testing program as a way to prevent drug use in the district. She added that there are things the board and district administration may learn about local drug use as a program is put into place, but she expects an implementation to be a productive tool in prevention.

“Our role as parents, teachers and community members is to know our kids and create the safest environment for them and teach them to make independent decisions,” Peterson said. “Knowing a drug test can occur anytime at school and knowing what the consequences are is an easy conversation to have with your student. Let’s inform our kids why and inform them on how the program [will work]. We spend a lot of time trying to choose the right academic programs for them, and we should do the same with standard operating procedures.”

Board President Clay Cole said he believes a random drug testing program would be a deterrent to most students and would help them to make better decisions.

“I want to make sure we get the best program available for the kids’ and faculty’s sake,” he said. “I think determining what’s best for our district is something we just have to work with the administration on.”

Once a budget is determined for the program, Hart said it will be a matter of deciding which students will be eligible for drug testing.

“We’ll be pattering it down to do we want to do testing for those who are in extracurricular activities, or those who have driving permits?” he said. “And then we’ve got to decide what we do with students who test positive.”

Hart said legally, the district can’t test students just because they go to school.

“Everyone is guaranteed the right to a free and public education,” he said. “We can’t say they only have that right if they’re drug free. That’s why we have to test students who participate in extracurriculars or other activities that are privileges.”

Board member Kathy Major said she supports random drug testing among students participating in extracurricular activities.

“When you choose to represent Liberty Hill ISD in any extracurricular, you’re held to a higher standard,” Major said at the April candidate forum prior to this month’s school board election. “You’re representing yourself, your family and your community. It is a choice, not a requirement to be there. That’s where drug testing should be.”

She added that the parameters of confidentiality have to be exact, meaning the testing has to be random and from the base of kids representing LHISD, and she believes a rehabilitation program should be implemented along with the drug testing program for students who test positive.

Board member Anthony Buck said a random drug testing program would be good for the district.

“If we can help out one kid who might be having some problems, then it’s worth it,” he said. “I think the program should tie through extracurricular activities or vehicle passes, and not only should we have the program in place, but also a chance for counseling or some other type of thing to help the students out that might get tested and come up positive.”

Board member Scott Lindquist said a random drug testing program is a great idea for LHISD, but he wants to make sure the program is fair and correct.

“Anybody who is involved in extracurricular activities should be tested because they are representing Liberty Hill,” he added. “We need to put our best foot forward.”

Peterson agreed that drug testing should start with students who participate in extracurricular activities, because those are the students who are performing and putting themselves out there to represent Liberty Hill.

Board member David Nix agreed and said testing students in extracurricular activities would be the best group to test.

“Extracurricular or parking is fine, but testing those in extracurriculars probably gives you a wider swatch of kids,” he said. “If someone doesn’t have a parking permit, then we’ll miss them.”

Cole believes the district should gather more information before deciding which groups of students are tested.

“We’ve got to look at all the factors that come into play to determine what’s best for our district,” he said.

Board member Clint Stephenson said if students are going to represent Liberty Hill, then they should be held to a higher standard.

“That’s not to say that it’ll just be [students in] extracurricular activities [who are tested] because we haven’t decided that yet,” he said. “It could be tied to parking permits as well.”

Hart said deciding which schools drug testing will take place at is another decision the district and board will have to make. These types of programs can legally be implemented from sixth grade on up.

“That’s another decision we haven’t made,” Hart said. “When we did a survey with other districts, some of them said they do testing at the junior high and some do not.”

Buck, Cole, Stephenson, Major and Nix agreed that the testing should occur just at the high school level. Nix said he’d want to see how that went before starting testing in any other schools.

“We need to see how a program would apply in our district specifically,” he said. “I think you would definitely start at the high school level and then from there determine if there’s a need at other levels. I would look to data at other schools, as well as to their experiences and success. We have the ability to learn from others.”

Peterson said she thinks testing should be done at the junior high and the high school, because she believes drug use is occurring earlier than most parents and teachers want to believe.

“I think just because of the modern-day world we live in and easy access to things [drug use] is happening earlier than we want to believe it’s happening,” she said.

While Hart doesn’t believe it’s the district’s responsibility to drug test students, he said having random drug testing will help parents and give students a reason not to use drugs. He added that more and more schools are choosing to implement a drug testing program, especially those similar in size to LHISD.

In fact, just last week in Travis County, the Lake Travis ISD’s board approved random drug testing for students from 7th to 12th grade who participate in school-sponsored extracurricular activities and students from 9th to 12th grade who request a parking permit.

Buck said he ultimately believes the behavior of a child is a parent’s responsibility, but he also believes drug testing is a way to ensure that the students who are doing extracurricular activities or driving a vehicle on campus are not under the influence, which is the district’s responsibility.

Nix said he believes the district has an obligation to try to keep schools safe.

“As to what happens in the home that’s certainly up to parents, but we need to be mindful in keeping our schools safe,” he said.

Peterson said she absolutely believes it’s the district’s responsibility to randomly drug test students.

“If we are not concerned about drug presence in today’s easy access, no consequence world, we are not doing our due diligence,” she said.

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