The possibility of performing random drug tests on students who participate in Virginia High School League activities is still up in the air after Halifax County School Board members met Monday evening but took no action on the issue.
The idea is being introduced as a preventive measure to keep high school students away from drugs, said superintendent Dr. Mark Lineburg.
Jeff Davis, student services/accountability director, had presented the idea to the board a couple months ago, and this time he brought prices with him.
Coe Management Group, Inc., which works with Mecklenburg County Public Schools, offers six panel t-cute instant oral fluid kits for $12.25 plus shipping and handling, continine instant oral fluid kits for $9.25 plus shipping and handling, intercept oral fluid six panel test for $27 and intercept oral fluid kits for $5.
The student services/accountability director said the six-panel kits test for marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, amphetamine and opioids.
Also a $40 per hour fee is charged for collections to be performed by one of the company’s staff members at Halifax County High School.
The cost would be roughly $15,000 to $20,000 annually, said Davis.
He also said some schools have nurses trained to handle the testing, but Lineburg said he did not want to go that route.
The superintendent said he preferred if the school system stayed out of the testing procedure and the selection process.
“To me, random means random. If it’s random, then we’re out of it,” said Lineburg.
The student services/accountability director said Coe Management Group, Inc. would collect a student list to go into their software that would randomly select students for the testing.
He also said how often and how many tests performed at a time were up to the school system.
The tests, he said, have a two to three minute turn around time, and if they test positive, he said it is then sent to a specialist who confirms the test is positive.
“Then we would take the necessary steps,” said Davis, who added the punishment guidelines were up to the school system.
Further explaining how drug testing students works, Lineburg said they could not test the entire student body, but they could drug test those in VHLS activities or possibly all students in extracurricular activities calling clubs a “grey area.”
“A school official only needs reasonable suspicion to conduct a search,” he added.
The superintendent also reminded the board “kids in high school are going to make mistakes.”
But he said the best thing for a student is to be on a team at some point where a coach can have a chance to change a child’s life.
“Punish them for weeks or a season but hopefully we can give them a chance to get back out there,” said Lineburg.
However, ED-2 trustee Roy Keith Lloyd said students should be punished for the rest of the season at the very least.
“I oppose them coming back that playing season,” said Lloyd.
Meanwhile, ED-1 trustee Orey Hill opposed only testing some students.
“Most kids who play sports have drive, determination and are trying to do something with their life,” said Hill. “You’re not even hitting the kids who need to be hit. If I can’t drug test the teachers and all students, why am I trying to punish my good kids?”
ED-8 Trustee Walter Potts argued testing wasn’t punishment but a preventative measure to steer them away from drugs. He also pointed out students needed to be tested for alcohol as well.
Hill added, “As far as alcohol, they go to a party on Saturday night and on Monday morning, you’re not going to know. So there’s no need to even test them for it. Yes, you’re going to have a kid who shows up to school drunk every day, but you think he’s going to play any sports that day? I doubt it.”
He compared drug-testing students in VHSL activities to putting a lock on the door.
“It’s only going to keep the honest man out,” said Hill.
Chairman Joe Gasperini suggested Davis review policies of other schools so they could determine their own guidelines and to bring that information back to the board at the next meeting.
The board also reviewed a presentation from assistant superintendent Valdivia Hall on teacher turnaround.
Since the 2016-2017 school year, she said the number of teachers leaving the school system had reduced from 52 to 31.
She explained that out of the 47 teachers hired last year, 26 were Halifax County High School graduates, and that those with ties to the county were more likely to stay.
In talking about reasons for leaving, she said insurance and benefits were one of the biggest reasons given.
The board also approved changes to the Halifax County Public Schools Code of Student Conduct and Parent Notifications in a 6 to 1 vote. Lloyd voted against the revisions, and ED-6 trustee Freddie Edmunds was absent from the meeting.
Among the most controversial change involves student attendance with a parent note or phone call verifying a student’s absence only being accepted for five absences per year. The current code allows for five absences per semester.
After the fifth absence, a doctor’s note, court subpoena, obituary notice of family/close friend and religious holiday will be required.
Another change involves not allowing any bus drop-offs at commercial sites. However, trustees are considering allowing drop-offs to be made at commercial childcare facilities.
And the third change allows all middle and high school students who have committed violations of school rules to qualify for the student timeout program (STOP). Presently, students with disabilities served by New Beginnings are not eligible to participate in STOP.
Davis said the schools plan to work more with the parents on absences in the event that a student does not have a doctor’s note.
Extenuating circumstances will be deemed acceptable as an excused absence as determined by the school administration.
A parent note or phone call verifying the absence will be accepted for the first five absences.
But, Lloyd said he was still not pleased with the policy due to the five absences limit.
In other action, the board also appointed Vice Chairman Sandra Garner-Coleman to serve as the delegate at the Virginia School Board Association annual convention in November. Gasperini was appointed as the alternate.
Lineburg also told the board about a recent trip when more than 100 fourth and fifth graders visited Washington, D.C. where they were greeted by 5th District Congressman Denver Riggleman for a question and answer session followed by many stops along the way until they ended the day at Mary Washington College.