Discussion of reviving student drug screening arises in district
December 16, 2020
Editor’s note: This story was a part of the in-depth package of our Dec. 16, 2020 issue, which was named as a superior in-depth package in the 2021 TAJE Best of Texas contest. It won third place for print in depth news/feature package in the ILPC contest. It was also a finalist for news reporting in the Dallas Morning News high school journalism contest. It was also named an honorable mention in the Press Women of Texas high school journalism contest.
Board member suggests drug testing
Board of Trustees Vice President Tracy Scott Miller sparked the discussion of drug testing on campus when he shared his goal of implementing the tests over the announcements in late October.
“People are crying out for help and we want to be there to help them, not to catch them and put him in jail,” Miller said. “That’s not our objective here.”
Students and teachers reacted to his announcement with various opinions. Sign language teacher Amy England supports his initiative.
“I’ll be honest, I think it’s good because you’re young adults,” England said. “I’d rather something get caught when you’re young and you stop a problem that could forever change your life, even if it means you get in trouble when you’re young.”
Sophomore and football player Gunner Scheer, however, doesn’t think random drug testing is a good option. He said that while he could understand testing athletes on a set schedule about three times a year, he doesn’t support regularly testing students without solid proof of drug use, such as finding drugs in a student’s car or bag.
“You would have to have some kind of reason, [like] someone said they had taken drugs,” Scheer said. “Because randomly it’d get so annoying being taken out of class or out of practice just to do a drug test.”
Senior Richard Condra can see both sides of the argument.
“I think it won’t necessarily affect me, because if I end up getting tested, it will come back negative,” Condra said. “But I think it’s justified that some people believe it may be infringing on their rights. Then again, this is a school, and some of our rights are being given up to be here.”
Condra agrees that drugs are a present issue on campus.
“I don’t personally know anyone that does drugs, but I know that a lot of people do drugs here at Marcus,” Condra said. “Drugs are a problem anywhere because they put people in bad situations that they don’t want to be in.”
However, Miller’s plan is still in its early stages and it is unclear if it will be discussed by the board or ultimately gain enough support to be implemented in schools.
“I doubt that the administration is going to just amend administrative policies to include random drug testing,” Miller said. “I think that would take some discussion and in fairness, the board should have a discussion because we represent the community, and we should seek alternative opinions about it.”
Miller said that if drug testing is implemented in the future, he would want to test for drugs of varying levels of severity. He believes that drugs that are often considered to be less damaging, such as marijuana, can be gateways to addiction.
I’m willing to be very objective in how we do it and I think that we have a board that operates from a level of compassion, empathy, and will also look at things very thoroughly and deeply.”
— Tracy Scott Miller, Board of Trustees Vice President
“If we were to do anything, it would cover all those things that are used outside of legal provisions,” Miller said. “That could be drugs that are prescribed but not used within legal provisions of a prescription, or any street drugs that are illegal under Texas law.”
He believes that drug testing would benefit students by giving them an excuse to say no if offered drugs.
“It’s not meant to be a regulation,” Miller said. “It’s meant initially to be something that just suggests that you offer a child an opportunity to use that as a reason not to use.”
However, Miller also said that he is open to various ideas and is not adamant on having drug testing in schools if it is ultimately not the best option for students. According to Miller, his main goal at the current time is to have a conversation within the district about the best ways to protect students from doing drugs. He said that while he hopes drug dealers will receive a harsher punishment, students who admit to using drugs before being caught through the test will be punished less severely, because he wants to help students, not get them in trouble.
“We should address this from multiple dimensions and we should consider all the options,” Miller said. “What that looks like after we have those conversations, I don’t know. I’m willing to be very objective in how we do it and I think that we have a board that operates from a level of compassion, empathy, and will also look at things very thoroughly and deeply.”
Helping teens fight drug abuse is personal for Miller, as his family was one of millions impacted by drug use. His daughter started smoking cigarettes in high school. One night, she was caught on the auditorium stage with mushrooms. She began using harsher drugs when she started her freshman year of college. His son struggled with prescription drugs and cigarettes as well.
“Our son probably struggled with that a little bit,” Miller said. “Not as much as her, but I will tell you that he lost more friends to it between 2012 and 2015.”
Miller said that after finding out about his daughter’s struggles with drugs, his initial response was denial. However, that denial eventually shifted to shame and sadness that left him wondering if he should have done anything differently.
“At the end of the day, it’s a high level of grief you feel for your kids that went through that,” Miller said. “That they felt like they needed to do it for whatever reason it was. Insecurities or just being cool, just going along with it or real addiction.”
By July 2013, his daughter’s boyfriend, who also struggled with drug abuse, died from using heroin. His death left a large impact on Miller’s family. Miller said that it was difficult to even explain the emotions that came with it, but it eventually inspired him to help prevent other families from facing the same tragedy by running for the district board.
In general I am not in favor of reimplementing random student drug testing in our school… because of the cost. Because of the lack of effectiveness and positive results. Because of those logistical issues.”
— Dr. Kevin Rogers, LISD Superintendent
“What motivates me now, quite frankly, is the stories that I hear in the community,” Miller said. “The stories I hear from kids. These are real stories. It’s there. It’s real and while some people want to gloss over it, pretend that it doesn’t exist or it’s not as severe as people think it is, that’s just naïve.”
The future of drug testing and similar ideas in the district is currently unclear, as the topic has not yet been discussed by the board, which will ultimately make the final decision. However, LISD Superintendent Dr. Kevin Rogers, who was the principal in 2008 when the school last drug tested students, has some concerns.
“In general I am not in favor of reimplementing random student drug testing in our school… because of the cost,” Rogers said. “Because of the lack of effectiveness and positive results. Because of those logistical issues.”
However, both Miller and Rogers agreed that they share a common goal of protecting students, but have different opinions about the best way to achieve it. Miller said that even if drug testing is never implemented, he will be happy if his actions spark discussion about drugs and the wellbeing of students.
“I think that when you’ve gone through this and experienced the pain of this, obviously it will compel someone to want to help,” Miller said. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to be a leader in our community that the voters have given me.”
LISD revisits drug testing history
The idea of drug testing in LISD schools isn’t new. In April 2008, LISD implemented a plan to collect urine samples from students who were involved in extracurricular activities at school or parked on campus. The test detected drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, prescription painkillers, phencyclidine, sedatives and stimulants.
Current LISD Superintendent Dr. Kevin Rogers was the principal at the time. Although Rogers is not against drug testing students at home and tested his own kids when they were in high school, he does not support it in a school setting.
“It has nothing to do with my total objection to drug testing,” Rogers said. “It has to do with the logistics of doing it at school… School is really more about education, not about asking kids to give me a urine sample.”
According to Rogers, a computer generated list from one of two companies LISD worked with — Pinnacle Medical Management and Forward Edge — randomly chose 75 students for testing every week for the rest of the 2007-2008 school year. That number was lowered to 48 students per week in fall 2008. The students were pulled out of class and escorted to the auditorium bathroom, where they had to provide a urine sample while an assistant principal waited outside of the stall.
“It’s inappropriate to ask our staff to be standing… outside the stall, waiting for one of our students to provide a urine specimen,” Rogers said.
If a student tested positive, their urine was retested to confirm the results. Testing positive during a drug test resulted in a student being suspended from competitive extracurricular activities and losing their parking privileges. With each positive result, the punishment increased, from three weeks for the first test and a full year for the third. Students who tested positive more than once were also required to participate in counseling.
However, Rogers said that there was a low positive rate among students, partially because some students who were using drugs avoided the test by not participating in extracurriculars and parking in nearby neighborhoods instead of on campus. He believes that keeping students parked on campus is more important than urine samples when it comes to preventing drug use, as the district’s drug dogs can detect substances in cars.
“We’re less likely to catch them versus if we allow them to park on school property with a sticker and our drug dog detects something,” Rogers said.
Controversy about the random drug testing also rose among students and parents at the time. Hundreds of LISD high school students signed an online petition against the testing. In 2008, former student Morgan Anderson, then a freshman, told The Marquee that random drug testing was a violation of students’ rights.
“I think it’s that they’re not giving us a choice or a say in the matter,” Anderson said. “You’re going to get punished if you don’t do it. I don’t know what happened to innocent until proven guilty.”
Some parents also expressed concern about the district’s plans during a meeting on March 8, 2008.
“What’s next? The city of Flower Mound pulls me over and says ‘I’m going to test you because you’re driving on the street?’” one parent said during the meeting.
The issues the school faced inspired Rogers to recommend that random drug testing in LISD schools be put to a stop. This was approved by the school board and superintendent in 2010, ending the two year program.
“The expense, what we felt like was the ineffectiveness as far as making a difference, the logistical nightmare, it was a combination of all those things as to why we recommended stopping it,” Rogers said.
Area school tests students
Lovejoy High School has been randomly drug testing extracurricular UIL students and athletes for four years. Fine Arts Director Dr. Fela Mathy said that the Lovejoy staff implemented drug testing to help students make better decisions.
“When you think about students having activities on the weekend, especially kids involved in sports or fine arts, when they have that idea that drug testing could impact their opportunity to participate, I think it gives them another level to say no,” Mathy said.
Drug testing was first implemented at Lovejoy during the 2016-2017 school year, and the program began with only UIL athletes. The Board of Trustees ruled it as a success, and the testing was expanded to all UIL participants, including fine arts, the following school year.
The school holds four to six rounds of testing each year and 10 percent of UIL students are required to provide a urine sample each time. Only five students are allowed in the restrooms at once, and officials from the school’s hired testing lab wait outside the restrooms to take students’ samples to the lab.
“When the students go in to provide their urine sample, one of the things you have to think about is anyone who might want to cheat the system,” Mathy said. “And so whenever they provide their sample in the cup, the drug collector measures the temperature, and there’s a certain range of temperature that the urine has to be in order to be considered a good sample.”
If a student fails a drug test, their parents and coach or director are alerted. The news also reaches the athletics or fine arts director, and the director of special services. Mathy supports the school’s decision to keep the student’s test results within the family and the district.
“Sometimes students will make a mistake, and how do we go forward from that?” Mathy said. “It shouldn’t be something that defines them for the rest of their high school career.”
Along with confidentiality, support is offered to the student. After testing positive, students will have a meeting with their parents, coach or director, and district officials to discuss the test. Consequences such as sitting out some of their season are discussed.
“I think it’s important to know your kids and listen to what they are saying, and just talk them through it,” Mathy said.
A counseling track for the student is also discussed. This could mean anything from checking in with a campus counselor once a week to seeking professional help outside the district. Mathy believes that a “one size fits all” approach to counseling would not be beneficial. She said that it is important to consider each student’s personal situation when determining the next steps.
“Every kid is different,” Mathy said. “One student, it could be the first time they experimented with drugs and got caught, versus the student who maybe for the last year has been experimenting.”
Though Mathy strongly believes in drug testing, she understands some students’ aversion to it.
“Some young people want to do what they want to do on a weekend and not have any accountability, so I understand all of that,” Mathy said. “But I also think it’s OK to want you to be healthy and this is one thing we can do to help you with that. Is it awkward to go and use the restroom in a cup at school? Of course it is. I mean, nobody wants to do that. But it’s a part of helping make sure that we’re healthy.”
Along with promoting health, Mathy thinks that the conversations opened up between students and adults is beneficial.
“From the adult side, I think it’s been a really positive thing,” Mathy said. “If for no other reason, it forces us to have some really crucial conversations with our kids.”