By Ann Marie Shambaugh
Zionsville will no longer be the only high school in its conference to not conduct random drug tests.
The school board concluded a nearly four-hour meeting Nov. 28 by voting in favor of implementing random drug tests at Zionsville Community High School beginning in the fall of 2017. The 3-2 vote came after the board gathered feedback from a panel of experts, who spoke mostly in favor of random drug tests, and the public, who spoke mostly against it.
School board member Debbie Ungar and board President Shari Alexander Richey, who called the meeting and was visibly torn about the decision, voted against the proposal. Board Vice President Jane Burgess joined Jim Longest and Joe Stein in supporting the measure.
“Consequences definitely do make a difference,” Burgess said. “As adults, you sometimes opt to not have that second glass of wine because of the possibility of a DUI, and you don’t want to take that chance. The same thing works for kids.”
Several members of the audience disagreed, citing studies claiming that random drug testing makes little difference, if any.
“My fear is random drug testing is us feeling like we’re doing something without actually doing anything,” said Michael Berg, a Zionsville resident who works at a high school and has been involved with substance abuse counseling. “In public health, that is the worst thing you can do.”
Others expressed concern that drug tests could lead students to try more dangerous drugs, such as opiates, which flush out of the system faster than others, such as marijuana. Some worried that it would destroy trust between students and teachers, while others said it should not be the role of schools.
“As a parent this is an invasion that steps over that line and into parenting responsibilities,” said Zionsville resident Jeff Price, adding that he doubted the policy would deter many students.
Supporters included ZCHS football coach and teacher Pat Echeverria, who said players he’s coached have indicated random drug testing serves as a strong deterrent.
“If we can … give (students) some ammunition to say no to a friend who is trying to peer pressure them, then I think we’re doing the right thing as a school board and as a community,” he said.
Attendees on both sides of the issue shared stories of how drug abuse had impacted their families, including several school board members.
All of the school board members agreed that random drug testing is only part of the solution. They spoke in support of implementing a long-term holistic approach to preventing drug use. Zionsville Community Schools has been developing a program called Stronger in Every Way to do just that.
Now that the school board has voted to implement random drug testing, district officials will work to craft specifics of the policy. It is expected to be based off of a proposal developed in 2014, the first time the board broached the issue and subsequently tabled it for more than two years. The school board will review the proposed policy at an upcoming meeting, and it is expected to be finalized and approved by April 2017.
ZCS Supt. Scott Robison said random drug testing is expected to cost between $3,000 and $5,000 annually. Students eligible for the tests are those involved in extracurricular activities or privileges such as sports or parking on school property.
The policy proposed in 2014 includes the following points:
- Students expecting to drive, park on school grounds or participate in any extracurricular activities (including dances and prom) throughout the school year must enroll for random drug testing to be eligible.
- The policy doesn’t replace the district’s right to test any student who at a time exhibits cause for reasonable suspicion of drug and/or alcohol usage.
- Parents may opt to enroll their students in the random drug testing program if they don’t already qualify, but they may not opt out.
- A table of random numbers will be used to assign numbers to participants, and a random mathematical formula will be used to select students for testing.
- Parents may request a drug test for their teen but must pay for it.
- If tampering or cheating during the test is confirmed, the student will become ineligible for all extracurricular activities for the remainder of the school year.
- The school principal or designee will be notified of a positive test and will notify the student and his or her parents and provide information on counseling and assistance.
- Students must enroll and participate in an approved counseling program to regain participation privileges.
- Students on a sports team will be suspended from 25 percent of contests after a first positive test and 50 percent of contests after a second. Students will lose parking, driving and extracurricular activities for 30 days after a first positive test and 60 days following a second.
The panel of experts included members of law enforcement, ZCS officials and others. The following are some of their thoughts on drug testing and related issues.
“(The drug epidemic) is killing people at a rate that is staggering, and it’s not going to stop until we take action on certain things.” – Boone County Sheriff Mike Nielsen
“It is right here in our community, and it is devastating. I feel like we need to do everything we possibly can to combat this and try to save our young people. It’s killing us all.” Zionsville Police Chief Robert Knox
“This has been in place for several years. It’s run very smoothly, and it’s because at the heart of it it’s not punitive. It’s for the students. It’s for the awareness.” Lebanon Community School Corp. Director of Assessment and High Ability Kari Ottinger on her district’s drug testing policy, which has been in effect since 1998.