HENDERSON - There are times when a student scores a negative on a test, and believe it or not, school officials couldn't be more pleased.
When the Henderson County School District implemented a random drug testing policy for middle and high school students participating in extracurricular activities or who have a parking permit -- HCSD staff didn't know what to expect.
One year later, the numbers are in.
Between September of 2017 and May of 2018, 466 students from sixth grade to 12th grade were randomly chosen for drug testing.
Of that number, there were only four tests which came back positive for drugs which shouldn't have been in student's system. (Lab testing matched with valid prescriptions rules out medicines a student might take for ADHD, allergies or other legitimate medical issues.)
“We were pleased with the results," said Steve Steiner, assistant superintendent of administration. "Obviously, we’d rather it be zero. We think, and what we hear from kids, is that they are able to provide another reason for them to not do drugs. So when the peer pressure comes, then they have an out. They can say, ‘No. I know I’m going to get tested.’ Or, ‘No. My coach is going to find out.’ ”
Those middle and high school students involved in school sports or clubs and those high school students who have parking permits or whose parents wanted him/her randomly drug tested are assigned a number.
"Testing is strictly random. We input numbers attached to students’ names and we run those numbers. Whomever's number the system spits out, that’s who we test," he said. "We have had students pulled more than once or pulled within a short time of being tested the first time. We test them again anyway."
"If a student has been tested and their number is spit out again, we won’t decide to not test them just because they’ve already been drug tested. If you’re on the list, there you go. We felt we had to do it like that to keep it consistent," Steiner said.
The cost of the program -- $10,000 -- was set aside in the budget by the school board, he said.
The random drug testing process was carefully considered, Steiner said, which is one reason it didn't begin until after Labor Day.
“We didn’t want to test even one kid until we knew exactly what we were going to say; what we were going to do and until we had the process vetted out with several different people," he said. "We had meetings for different teams, clubs and their parents. We just felt like we needed more time so that the process was right.”
"We also wanted to make sure we were communicating this thoroughly," said Megan Mortis, public information officer for the school system.
The process starts with the system which chooses random numbers for testing.
"To avoid any issues during the school day, we bring the kids in for testing. We do not show them the results or tell them anything," Steiner said. "We just send them right back to class. Brian Gardner, who is the school compliance officer, will contact the parent and tell him/her that their child was randomly drug tested and that they will be informed as soon as results are in."
"If we get a positive result, we contact the parent and ask for a list of all medications that the child takes. That information is sent to the lab for further testing. If the lab tests indicate there are no legitimate medicines in the student’s system and the screen has yielded a positive, then there is a meeting with Brian, the principal, the student and the student's parents."
"The school’s discipline for the positive drug test is that the student can’t participate in his/her extracurricular activity for four weeks. They can practice, but they can’t play. If they drive, they can’t drive their cars on campus."
How far to get involved in the disciplinary end of things was a focal point for those hashing out the procedures.
"When we met originally, we debated which would be the most appropriate response to a student having drugs in his/her system," Steiner said. "We decided on a mix of a school discipline and giving the parents information for outside resources to help. We don’t want to treat students in a way that communicates if they do something one time, then their extracurricular activity gets cut off.
"We want them to still participate in the activity, because the more they do, they more they engage and the better off they are. So the performances or games will be limited, but they can practice with their teams and attend events as spectator."
When the four weeks is finished, the student will have to take another drug test.
"If they show a clean screen, they are good to go. They can learn from the mistake and move forward," Steiner said. "If they don’t show a clean screen, it’s considered a second violation and that’s an 18-week suspension of playing on their team and driving on campus. The third offense is a 365-day suspension from participation in extracurricular activities or having a parking permit. These consequences build on each other."
The suspension from extracurricular activities and parking permits is as far as the school system gets involved.
“We felt like after that it was up to the parents to make a wise decision for their child and what’s best for him/her going forward,” Steiner said.
Mortis said the school's community partners have been very supportive of the random drug testing policy.
“We had a lot of support from the parents, but we got a lot of support from the community as well which is something we really didn’t expect," she said. "When we talk about getting students work-ready, from Kyndle to a lot of other organizations said to us, ‘We are so glad you are doing this.’ Because when students move into the workforce they will be randomly drug tested. Our staff has had random drug tests for several years.”
Steiner said coaches have also been a proponent of the drug-testing program.
“They were clear that they wanted to know," he said. "The coaches said, ‘We are the ones who see them every day after school for three hours. We have relationships built. So let us know because we can help and we can point them in a different direction.' "
"The coaches were so supportive,” he said.
"Overall, we think it’s a positive thing," Steiner said. "We are testing them sixth to 12th and getting them all the way through."