Escambia Approves Student Drug Testing

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Escambia County middle and high school students who participate in extracurricular activities, athletics or drive onto campus will be subject to random drug tests beginning next school year.

The Escambia County School Board unanimously approved the new random drug testing policy at a special meeting Thursday night. Parents will be required to sign a permission form to allow their child to be tested. Without consent from parents, students will not be allowed to participate in the activity or drive onto campus.

Several parents spoke out against the policy during the public forum, including Kathy Fellgren, parent of a 14-year old student.

“This policy bothers me a lot,” she said. “She’s an excellent student. She would be mortified to be randomly called out of class and told she had to go pee in a cup…Why are your putting on the backs of kids that are good?”

District 5 board member Bill Slayton made a motion to amend the policy to test only high school students, expressing concerns that many middle schoolers would not be comfortable or understand the testing.

Ernest Ward Middle School Principal Nancy Perry spoke out in favor of the drug testing policy, including at the middle school level.  “Middle school is the time of experimentation. Middle school is the time that peers influence peers,” she  said.

Slayton’s motion failed 1-4, as he cast the only  vote in favor of skipping testing for middle school students.

Others expressed more technical and logistic concerns over the testing, including Susan Watson, local ACLU representative. She likened the random drug tests to “government bullying”, and also expressed concern that common medications or foods could cause false positives, potentially damaging the reputation of a middle or high school student.

Board member Gerald Boone said he supported the policy, but felt reservations about taking on what he called a parenting role. “I don’t really want to take the role of the parent. I just wish that there was more parenting out there, and there’s not in this day and time,” he said.

The school board will next review the policy and its procedures for it is implemented in August with a committee of parents, officials and students.

As the policy currently stands, students that participate in athletics, extracurricular activities or park on campus would be subject to the random urine tests. A signed parental consent form would be valid during the entire school year, not just for the duration of the athletic season or extracurricular activity period.

Students whose parents do not consent to the tests would not be allowed to participate in the activities — including any practice, tryout, rehearsal or even sit with the team, club or organization at a game or pep rally.

The drug tests will be conducted by the school health nurse or technician under the plan. If there is a positive result, the student would be required to take a follow-up drug test at a District-approved licensed laboratory within 24 hours. Failure to take the follow-up test would be considered a positive result, according to the proposed plan.

If a student refuses to participate in a random drug test, it will be considered a positive result.

A positive result would result in the student being removed from all extracurricular and athletic activities, including practices, for at least 30 days and would be suspended from driving on the school campus. The student would be referred to a District-approved drug assessment and rehabilitation program.

A student with a positive drug test result would be required to pass a second drug test before participation in future activities at the expense of their parents. They would be subject to additional random drug tests, and they would remain on probation for the rest of their school years in the Escambia County School District. The student would not be allowed to return to any leadership position — such as captain of a squad, club officer or class officer — for the remainder of the school year.

A second positive result would prohibit a student from participation in all athletics and extracurricular activities and from driving on campus for one full calendar year.

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