A school principal strolls the building, selecting students one by one from each class. He does not tell them where they are going or why. All he says: “Come with me.”
The principal takes the students into a conference room, seats them at the table and passes them each a small stack of paperwork. A woman they have never met enters the room and explains the purpose for their out-of-class visit: a company randomly selected these students to be tested for drugs and alcohol.
A company from Topeka is testing 6th- through 12th-grade students at Solomon High School and Solomon Middle School. Students, or their parents if the student is younger than 18, must either sign a release form to be tested for drugs, or they forfeit the right to participate in extra-curricular activities and park on school property. No one has declined to sign the form.
Each month, the company tests three high school students, two middle school students and some bus drivers. All student consequences are tied to participation in extra-curricular activities. So far, no tests have come back positive.
Both Maggie Aylward, sophomore at SHS, and Taylor Hagen, senior class president at SHS, said they know classmates who use drugs. Hagen said she thinks the policy will make a positive impact on the students.
“I feel like it’ll keep kids off of the drugs,” Hagen said. “If you’re in sports, it’ll make you not want to go do drugs so you can play a sport, so you don’t get kicked out.”
Hagen said she is surprised how many SHS students openly discuss their drug and alcohol usage in class.
“I’m just like, ‘There’s a teacher right there – hush,’” Hagen said. “It makes no sense to talk about it openly.”
Working to make a change
Dustin Dooley, Solomon’s new middle school and high school principal, said he is aware that students openly discuss their drug and alcohol consumption in class and he is working to do something about the usage.
The Solomon Board of Education adopted the random testing policy in April. Along with the drug and alcohol policy, the district started bringing its DARE officer up from elementary school, where he still speaks, to the middle school and high school students. Dooley said students also learn about drugs and alcohol in their health class.
Dooley worked for El Dorado Public Schools before his tenure at Solomon. He said the usage there was much worse than in Solomon, so he has experience dealing with this issue.
Along with reducing drug and alcohol usage, Dooley said one of the policy’s primary goals is to increase communication with parents. This communication is made possible through emails about programs and a monthly newsletter providing middle school and high school updates.
“I felt we’ve done a good job communicating with the patrons of our community about the random drug testing policy,” Dooley said. “We sent several forms home. I’ve included it in memos and newsletters. I believe that they’re knowledgeable about what happens, how it works, how kids are tested and consequences of a positive test.”
It costs to break the law
If any students test positive for drugs or alcohol, the administration has set in place a series of consequences that heighten with each infraction.
On a first positive test, the student is banned from extra-curricular activities for a week and they are not allowed to park on school property for a week. The student is also tested each month for the next five months. Additionally, the student must take a survey “to determine the use of alcohol and drugs in their life and see if they need anything further,” Dooley said.
On a second positive test, the student is banned from extra-curricular activities and school property parking for eight weeks. Furthermore, the student is required to participate in a counseling or rehabilitation program of their choice, at cost to the student’s parent or guardian.
If a student were ever found in possession of drugs or alcohol on school property, they would be automatically expelled.
Dooley said the random drug testing takes place during school.
“I just go around and pick them up,” Dooley said. “I don’t call their names out of class because I don’t want them to know what’s going on. I just walk around and pick them out and they walk with me up to the conference room where we do the preliminary screening, and then we go to take them to the nurse.”
Dooley said the drug testing company’s nurse conducts urinalyses and divides the samples into nine different categories to test for nine types of drugs, including alcohol. During the preliminary screening, the students fill out paperwork and the nurse explains the testing process. Afterward, the students return to class.
“If a student’s found with a positive test, the company will call the parents or guardians first to determine if they’re taking any medications or anything that could trigger a positive test,” Dooley said. “Then, after they’re contacted, I’m notified.”
Dooley said each test costs the district $50. The average turnaround time for test results is two weeks.
Though the policy may raise questions as to the legality of random drug testing of students in school, Dooley said he believes the administration is in the clear.
“Schools that have implemented this have felt that it isn’t an invasion of privacy,” Dooley said. “The deal is: if the parent or the adult or the student thinks it’s an invasion of privacy, they don’t have to be tested. It’s their choice. But then again, if they don’t, then they forfeit the right to participate in extra-curricular activities and park on school property.
“There’s been court cases that have agreed that and the court system agrees with the side of the schools that do that,” Dooley said. “I just think it helps to deter our students from doing things they shouldn’t be doing.”