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Getting testy


The Putnam City school board is expected to vote Monday on the drug-testing policy.
Credit: Mark Hancock

The issue has met some criticism from parents during a handful of recent community meetings at all three Putnam City high schools, but most feedback has been positive, said Rick Croslin, executive director of secondary education for the school district.

Those against the proposal “have problems with the notion of random student drug testing being performed at any school,” he said.

At a May 6 school board meeting, only one parent, Kirk Shelley, addressed the issue during public comments. He said the would-be policy would not reduce drug usage and could even have the opposite effect by driving marginal students away from extracurricular activities that deter drug use.

“I would be in favor of this program if it actually worked, but it doesn’t,” Shelley said.

School board members are expected to vote on it Monday. If passed, the policy would be enacted for the 2013-14 school year.

The proposal
Students participating in such activities as athletics, band, academic team and vocal music would be required to consent to drug-testing as part of their annual physical for eligibility or on a random basis.

Under the plan, parents with minor children not in competitive activities can opt to have them randomly tested. Any student over age 18 may volunteer to be tested as well.

About 50 students per month from each high school would be tested, according to district athletic director Dick Balenseifen.

The extent of the drug test has not been finalized. It could consist of either a five-panel test, which checks for illegal street drugs, or a nine-panel type that also screens for prescription drugs. Performance-enhancing drugs would also be detected.

Kirk Shelley

Test results would be confidential and not become part of student discipline records.

After each offense, students would be withheld from extracurricular activities for escalating periods of time and be required to take part in drug treatment programs. No academic sanctions would be levied.

Moreover, after a first offense, drug treatment would be offered at no charge to students and parents through A Chance to Change Foundation, a local recovery nonprofit.

A drug-testing policy at Putnam City, the state’s fifth-largest school district, would help students deal with peer pressure, said Craig Abraham, president of the Putnam City North High School athletic booster club.

“This is a preventative measure that can go a long way to helping our children be able to just say no,” he said.

Legal basis
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld random drug-testing in public schools in 2002 by a 5-4 decision involving Tecumseh schools. Two students, Lindsay Earls and Daniel James, argued that the testing violated their Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

In the majority opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that students participating in extracurricular activities have a limited expectation of privacy and “Fourth Amendment rights ... are different in public schools than elsewhere.”

An earlier draft of Putnam City’s policy had required students with parking permits to submit to random testing, but Superintendent Paul Hurst said that aspect was stricken because it hadn’t been vetted in court.

Early on, some parents expressed concerns about the policy to the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, but the organization’s legal director said the proposal apparently conforms to established law.

we do not support this type of testing system because of the message of
suspicion and distrust it sends to students and its potential for
abuse, we do not see any major legally-objectionable things to be
challenged here,” said Brady Henderson, legal director of ACLU’s
Oklahoma chapter.

Several other metro school districts have enacted similar policies, including Edmond, Mid-Del and Yukon.

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