By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer
Hermitage School Board members now have a written student drug testing policy to review and will be asked to vote on it in November.
Hermitage police patrolman Anthony Moses, the school resource officer stationed at Hickory High School, proposed in February creating a voluntary program in which a small, randomly selected number of students in grades 8 through 12 are tested monthly for drug use.
Parents would issue written permission for their students to participate, and could pull that permission in writing at any time.
The results of the tests would be sent to parents. School officials and police would not be notified of the results. The confidentiality of the program would be a key to its success, Moses said.
Officials said they hope to create positive peer pressure, where it becomes unusual if a student has not volunteered to be in the pool.
The policy largely falls within the outline proposed by Moses, with the exception that the policy would permit testing of urine samples as well as hair samples. Officials up until now had talked exclusively about hair testing.
“There’s been a lot of discussion as to which process to use,” Superintendent Dr. Daniel Bell said Monday. “Differing opinions about the proper way to do that.”
With hair testing, school personnel would cut a small lock of hair, but the hair would have to be sent out for testing. With urine testing, an outside agency would be brought in to collect samples, but there are an established urine-testing infrastructure because many employers require drug testing, and Sharon Regional Health System would be willing to send someone in to collect samples, Bell said.
Urine testing would be cheaper than hair testing, he said.
Bell said officials have not decided which way to go and might offer students the option of choosing a process.
The policy states its purposes are to enhance communication between students and parents on drug prevention; provide students who use drugs access to assistance programs; deter drug use; prevent school disruptions and students accidents and injuries resulting from drug use; and protect the health and safety of students.
A positive test result disclosed to school officials by a parent will not result in academic or disciplinary consequences to the student, the policy says. School officials plan to present these parents with a list of agencies that could offer help for their children.
The policy also states that all costs shall be paid by the district, but officials are hoping that donations and grants will cover all expenses.
Bell said the district has already collected about $4,000 with at least another $600 expected to come in the spring, more than enough to cover the projected first-year budget of $4,000 for the program.
Board members have been supportive of the idea and their comments Monday dealt with the language of specific provisions.
School board member Paul H. Paoletta asked administrators to clarify language dealing with minors when some students tested will be 18 or older, making them adults.
Board member Timothy Kizak asked that the policy specify that school employees will not handle the collection of urine.
If the board approves the policy at its Nov. 18 meeting, letters will go out to parents the next week informing them of the program and allowing them to register students, Bell said.
It has not been determined when the first tests would be conducted, but Bell said he expects to begin the program this year.