The Lacey school district is preparing to propose the random drug testing program to the Board of Education for a first reading of a policy in April with implementation for the 2013-14 school year.
“This is a very controversial topic because people have taken a position already with regards to how they feel,” Superintendent Dr. Sandra Brower said at the second forum on the random drug testing program Tuesday night.
The district is mapping out a plan to randomly drug test high school students who participate in extracurricular activities and those who hold a parking permit.
At the forum, school district staff, parents and community members split into groups to discuss pros and cons of the random drug testing program.
Participants who may support the program were challenged to think of cons to see the other perspective.
“We want to make sure we understand all that we need to when making such a bold move to embark on this program,” Brower said.
Some pros included that the program would be a deterrent, spare kids lives, prepare students for adulthood and assist students while guiding parents. Some of the cons were the program could label students who test positive, cost, a perceived double standard that staff and administration would not be tested and that certain groups of students may be targeted.
“We are so new to this,” Brower said.
Districts across the country have implemented random drug testing. Some have relinquished the program while others have continued, she said.
While nationally, the average percentage of students who test positive is 2 percent, in New Jersey the figure is at 4.5 percent, Brower said.
The Manasquan Public School District is one that has implemented a program and recommended that Lacey communicate with Matt Franz, director of the Sport Safe Testing Service, a company that helps schools across the country design and implement random drug testing programs.
Franz was involved in a random program while in high school and now works for the student drug testing company based in Ohio. He is working with 10 districts in New Jersey, including Manasquan.
Sport Safe was founded in 1996 after a student in Ohio was murdered over a $50 drug deal, Franz said on a phone conference at the forum.
“We maintain that philosophy that we just want to help schools develop programs that work — they give kids a reason to say no and provide early intervention to those who can’t,” he said.
Prepare to 'Evolve'
Participants at the forum were able to question Franz on his experience with random drug testing programs. One resident asked how she could be sure the program is random and not targeting a certain group of students.
Because Sport Safe is an independent company, they are not involved in the school district, Franz said. The company would be given a database of names, student identification numbers, age and gender. Then, a computer algorithm is used to generate a random group of students to test.
“The integrity of this program is everything,” he said. “We need parents to trust the system…We don’t have a dog in the fight. We’re just here to help manage that selection.”
The randomized list would be provided to the school district a day before testing so administration could pull out consent forms and prepare, he said.
Another resident asked if the list could be given to the district the day of testing to avoid any possibility of tampering.
“We want the process to go smoothly,” Franz said. “If the school’s policy is decided where they want the list the day of and you feel you can logistically make that work without slowing down the process, then certainly.”
Mayor David Most questioned whether students would have the ability to circumvent the system by claiming that they’re on a prescription prior to being tested.
There is no personal interaction with the students before or after the urine specimen is taken, Franz said. The test is sent to the lab and if a positive result comes in, the parents are called even before the school district is notified. If the student were taking a prescription, the parent would have to provide proof.
“Everything is done on the backend of things so we can preserve some confidentiality,” he said.
What if the school district has a large number of positive tests?
“Any district that implements a program like this, needs to be prepared to evolve and certainly what we’re going to do is scratch the surface and maybe find out what kind of problem we’re dealing with,” Franz said.
There are ideas and solutions to deal with a large drug problem, Franz said, recommending testing more students in that situation.
“The theory behind that is, if you have a 10 percent positive rate and we’re only testing 100 kids out of 1,000, well, there’s an awful lot of kids that we’re not helping,” he said. “Getting kids into the program, getting kids into the intervention side of this is priority.”
The program being discussed is intervention based, he said. Brower has said that there would be no punitive action.
“It takes time and it takes getting to kids sooner,” Franz said. If a large percentage of ninth graders were testing positive, Franz would recommend the district reach the students sooner.
Franz expects the Lacey Township School District to follow the trend of New Jersey and have a higher percentage than other areas of the country, he said.
In Manasquan, the district is aiming to be more “aggressive,” “flexible” and “unpredictable,” Franz said.
“I think what’s going to be interesting for them is to see if this process will lower their positive rates,” he said. “What we’re seeing with them is a very low level of follow up positives.”
Students that are ultimately participating in the intervention program are staying clean, he said.
“Even if we can’t have a 0 percent positive rate, if we’re getting kids who have problems, getting them help and they’re staying on track, well then I see that as a successful program,” he said.
'Embracing the Problem'
From the prescription drop box installed at the police department, the Municipal Alliance Task Force and Red Night Out to the discussion of a random drug testing program, Lacey is taking a proactive approach to its problem, Most said.
“It’s all about embracing the problem,” he said. “Whether you took a pro or con approach, it’s great that we’re talking about solutions.”
In 2012, there were 40 overdoses in Lacey with eight deaths. In 2013, there have been two overdoses with one death.
“It’s a tough world out there and (kids are) facing some difficult decisions and whatever we can do as adults to help them make the right decisions this is one step forward,” Brower said.
Next up, school staff and administration will be visiting districts that have implemented a random drug testing program.
The district will be proposing the program to the Board of Education in March, with a possible first reading of the policy in April and a second reading and a public hearing in May.
The district will also be holding another forum within a month.
For more information on the random drug testing program, read “Super: 'We're Losing Kids' to Lacey's Drug Problem.”
The district also provided a Q&A to provide information for unanswered questions. Click here to read more.