Brownstown set to roll out random student drug tests

BROWNSTOWN

A Midwest Toxicology Services representative made one thing clear about Brownstown Central Community School Corp.’s decision to implement random drug testing for middle and high school students.

“This is a program to help students, not to catch students,” Susie Fields said. “We want to help students get on the right track, give them an opportunity to say no (to drugs), and if they are having problems, give them an opportunity to go through a program to get themselves in the right way so they can have a good educational experience. That’s what it’s about.”

Fields shared those thoughts Tuesday night during a special meeting of the school’s board of trustees in the high school cafeteria. Around 20 people from the public and school teachers and administrators attended the meeting to hear from Fields and Superintendent Greg Walker.

Brownstown’s policy will be effective Aug. 1. The district will join 115 others in the state, including Seymour, that are currently subject students participating in extracurricular activities and who drive to school to random drug testing.

The activities include athletics, clubs, choir, band, cheerleading, student council, academic teams, etc.

Also, a parent or guardian who has a child not involved in extracurricular activities or driving to school can choose to have their child placed in the random pool.

Walker said, for legal reasons, the schools can’t have every student tested. There are 570 students in the high school and 380 in the middle school.

“We can’t make it a stipulation that you can’t enroll in this school unless you sign to be in the random drug testing pool,” he said. “However, extracurricular activities and driving to school are privileges.”

Walker said the administration and school board will work out a plan of how often to do the testing. The tests, which are $31 per student and $620 per event, will be paid for by the school corporation. Grants will be sought to help offset the expense, Walker said.

So why did Brownstown choose to do testing? Walker said it’s to deter the use of illegal substances; enhance the health and safety of all students participating in extracurricular or co-curricular activities and those who drive to school and park on school grounds; and educate, help and direct students away from drug and alcohol use and toward a healthy and drug-free participation.

Also, he said it’s the school’s legal obligation to follow Indiana Code, which directs the district to plan and maintain drug-free schools and provide instruction concerning the harmful effects of illegal drugs.

“My big feeling is that if we do student random testing, that’s just one more reason that a kid has to say no to drugs, another opportunity for them to combat peer pressure,” Walker said. “There was peer pressure when I was in school, and I know there’s peer pressure today.”

In December, talk between Walker and the board about random student drug testing began.

“The perception in the community (was) that a lot of our students were experimenting with drugs, and we felt like as educators we can’t just stick our head in the sand. This is something that we need to address,” he said.

Walker said he contacted numerous school districts that had a random drug testing policy in place, and all of them gave him positive feedback and said it was the right thing to do.

Board President Mary Ann Spray also saw value in the program.

“We certainly feel that this stepping forward and providing this testing procedure for our students in grades 6 through 12 is a positive move in keeping students drug-free,” she said.

Fields said Midwest Toxicology Services has had a student drug testing program since 1992 — when that was first allowed in the state of Indiana.

The company works in conjunction with Witham Toxicology Laboratory in Lebanon, which is affiliated with a large hospital in that area.

Twenty students will be tested during each random drug test event. Fields said the company only works with numbers, not names of students, and there will be one school official designated to run the program.

Testing will be done for amphetamines/methamphetamines, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, cocaine metabolite, opiates (heroin), phencyclidine (PCP), cannabinoids (marijuana), ethanol (alcohol) and cotinine (nicotine). Other drugs could be added if school officials see a need to do so.

On the day of testing, the school official will go from class to class to pick up students. Each student will report to a mobile unit, which is heated and air-conditioned and includes a counter space and two restrooms.

The chain of custody begins at the counter. After signing his or her name, the student will wash their hands and then be given a cup, and the professionally trained and certified collector will show them how much urine is needed.

Fields said the restrooms are treated, which means the toilet water is blue so the student doesn’t have an opportunity to dip the cup into the water and dilute the sample.

After the student is done, the collector checks the temperature strip at the bottom of the cup to ensure it falls within the range of 90 to 100 degrees. If it does, the collector pours the sample into a smaller bottle, a strip is placed over the top of the lid and the student verifies the chain of custody information and initials the seal.

The sealed container is placed into a plastic bag and sealed, and the seal won’t be broken until it gets to the lab. Technicians will test the sample and share results with the school official.

If it’s positive, a parent or guardian will be notified. The student must enroll in an approved counseling program and actively participate until successfully completing the program. He or she also would face suspension from school activities and driving.

An appeal process also is offered where a parent or guardian would have an opportunity to talk to forensic lab technicians or have another test performed. The samples are kept frozen for a year.

Fields said the lab is a huge supporter of drug-free students and wants to help as many students as possible.

“I think your school is making a very positive step in the right direction … to help protect these students from the drugs that are out there,” she said.

Heroin use, for example, is a problem right now. Fields said there was an east-central Indiana town that had 200 heroin overdoses and five deaths in one month. The drug also can be purchased online.

Plus, there are HIV and Hepatitis C outbreaks in the area.

“There are no barriers or county lines that prevent that from coming into your area,” Fields said. “It’s very close, and the opportunity is there.”

Fields said she was glad to see the turnout at Tuesday’s meeting.

“It shows me that there’s a real, genuine community-concerned effort here, and I do appreciate that,” she said.

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Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.