During the May meeting of the Dawson County Board of Education, board members unanimously approved a proposal to begin random drug testing on students who participate in privileged activities at both Dawson County Junior High and Dawson County High School.
The decision comes after a year of discussion by the governance teams at the high school and junior high.
"I was approached over a year ago by the local school governance team at the high school, wanting us to do something, to curb use of illegal drugs by our school students. We did a lot of research. We have had it vetted by our attorneys," said Superintendent Damon Gibbs during the May 2 meeting.
The primary goal of the directive is to educate students and give them an easy out when they are confronted with the option to use illegal drugs. It is also an opportunity to communicate with parents, according to Gibbs.
"The reason we want to do this, first and foremost, is to give our students another reason to say no to using drugs," said DCHS Principal Richard Crumley.
In March and April, community meetings were held to invite the input of parents and the response was largely positive, according to Crumley and DCJH Principal Jeff Clapper.
"The only questions that came from the parent meetings were, were our consequences strict enough?" Crumley said.
Gibbs, along with Crumley and Clapper, emphasized during the work session that law enforcement will not be involved in the process.
It is considered an early intervention option to help benefit students and their families.
Every student who participates in a "privileged" activity will be assigned a number and a computer program will generate a list of 10 random numbers on a monthly basis. Those students will then be tested.
"The student does have an option to not participate in those privileged activities or they can refuse to test," Crumley said. "If they refuse to test, then that counts as a positive."
Privileged activities include being a part of any sports team at the school, driving a car to campus and extracurricular, approved activities like clubs. Each approved activity is listed in the student handbook.
It is estimated, according to Gibbs, that 85 percent of students participate in some type of activity. He also emphasized that it is against the law to random test the entire student population.
"Coming to school is a right. All of the things we are talking about are privileges," Gibbs said.
"It is not something that just a certain class of kids are active in. It is the best and brightest in our buildings and the ones at the other end of the spectrum as well," Crumley said.
If a student tests positive, the first offense will mean a 10 percent reduction in the privileged activity. So if a basketball player had 20 games for the year, he or she would have to sit out of two.
The suspension from activities does not, however, include any suspension from school.
"It is not a suspension in terms of suspension from school," Gibbs said. "It's suspension from an activity. This is not a discipline issue. This is not going to go into PowerSchool, in discipline history.
"This is really an opportunity for kids to say no and for parents to get involved early in their children's lives."
If a student participates in more than one privileged activity, each activity would be affected.
When a student tests positive, that will automatically trigger a phone call to the parents and to the administrator from their school.
"The building administrator would then have a conversation with the parents of that child to explain that process to them," Crumley said.
That student will also be subject to a follow-up test within a recommended timeframe.
For the next drug test, the family will have to pay the testing fee.
If a student tests positive a second time, he or she would have an extended suspension of privileges up to four weeks. A third positive test would result in a one year suspension of activities.
The effort is considered a partnership between the schools and the parents.
The test itself will be geared towards drugs that students currently have the greatest access to or drugs that law enforcement says are most prevalent in the area.
"I think it can save lives," Gibbs said.
Funding to pay for the monthly tests is already available via student fees, according to Crumley. The program will not mean any money is necessary from the system.
The cost to families for the test, if a second or third is required, will be around $25 per test.
The turnaround time to acquire test results is roughly two weeks.