Board of Education candidates discuss student drug testing

Rick Wagner • Apr 30, 2019 at 11:44 AM

KINGSPORT — Would you support drug testing public school students in co-curricular or extracurricular activities?

The Kingsport Times News posed the same five questions to the five people seeking three at-large seats on the Kingsport City Schools Board of Education. Below are the answers they gave to the final question. 

The Kingsport and Sullivan County school boards have discussed adopting drug-testing policies for students involved in things like extracurricular athletics and co-curricular band but have not started such programs, although Sullivan County once had a drug-testing program. City Attorney Mike Billingsley has told the school board that testing beyond extra- and co-curricular students might present a legal problem if challenged in court. 

5. Should students in co-curricular or extra-curricular programs be drug tested?

Julie Brinker Byers

Athletes at all levels are drug tested whether college, professional, Olympic, semi-pro. They are tested for steroids and performance enhancing drugs but illegal drugs also show in the scans.

The students in our school system represent our schools whether performing as an athlete, an actor, a musician, or educational club member. We expect them to honor our school with dignity and class. We are proud of our students but we also have known examples where drugs have been used and/or shared with others.

I would like us to be able to drug test the students in extracurricular activities but not for the purpose of discipline. Being suspended from school or not able to perform with the team allows more time and isolation for drug use to get worse. With marijuana being considered a gateway drug, testing the students and having mandatory drug counseling would be a preferred option. Can we get students “clean” and have them understand the full ramification of continued drug use before they hit the opioids and heroin?

Drug testing with discipline may prevent students from participating. Drug testing knowing it can help their future will have positive impact on the students.

Shelton Clark

I am not in favor of picking certain groups for drug testing and not everyone.

Liv H. Detwiler

This is a complex question and I feel I need more information before I can decide. State law dictates that drug testing can only be done in voluntary extracurriculars, which excludes any “co-curricular” activity, limiting testing in Kingsport to athletics, cheerleaders, and spirit shakers. Drug testing presents schools with a complex burden of properly administering sensitive tests such as urine collection, and controlling for compromised specimens. Urine samples, the most affordable option, have possibilities of false positives and compromised results based on ethnic diets, menstruation, metabolism, body size, weight, etc. This presents an unfair advantage/disadvantage across the board. On the other hand, drug testing is widely used in the workforce, and if one of the major goals of KCS is preparing students for the workforce, this is a reality our students may face. Several surrounding school districts have already implemented drug testing, so we are uniquely positioned to learn from their experience. We must avoid implementing a program that will cause more problems. I believe that drug testing programs should focus on recovery and prevention rather than punishment. If we decide to do this, we have to first have quality recovery/prevention programs in place that are accessible to all families.

Todd Golden

There are three things to understand:

We have a robust drug testing policy in place following Tennessee law.

Drug testing requires compliance of HIPAA and FERPA, two complex laws. HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability Accountability Act), is U.S. law designed to provide privacy standards to protect patients' medical records and health information. FERPA (Family Educational Rights Privacy Act) is a U.S. federal law that governs the access to educational information and records by public and private entities. FERPA is like the educational equivalent of HIPAA.

Broadening drug testing beyond the legal limits imposed by Tennessee would burden the system with onerous requirements of record keeping, security and blind results reporting. Any of these issues in and of themselves is a delicate balancing act that if the slightest mistake is made, can lead to costly legal losses and private student data dissemination. Rather than expand an already complex viable policy that has produced results, I would invite parents — to parent. If you feel the need to drug test your child, do so. Nothing can replace a face-to-face discussion with your child about the dangers of drugs. I don’t feel it is the school system’s place to supplant a parent’s responsibility.

Jim Welch

Our approach to this must be efficacious rather than cosmetic. Random drug testing of employees is a now a rather normal practice. Our special situation is that our students are not our employees, and most are not legal adults. As I am not yet a member of the BOE, I have not had the opportunity to learn from appropriate counsel what the legal requirements, restrictions and responsibilities local school systems have when implementing any policy of random drug screening for any or all sections of a student population within their system. Some individuals have reported to me that passing drug tests is a continuous hurdle to employment in hiring graduating students in our region. If those anecdotal reports are statistically valid, I believe we should consider working collaboratively with neighboring systems to address student drug abuse as part of a larger regional public health situation rather than identify subsets of a student population as target groups for random testing. From my experience working with occupational health providers, I am aware that drug testing at court admissible level is not inexpensive, and the required record keeping and record purging is an additional human resource cost.

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