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Drug testing par for the course in WNC high schools

The number of high school students failing random drug tests in Haywood County has remained constant since the school system put a drug testing policy in place seven years ago.

 

Between 12 and 14 students have tested positive for illegal drugs just about every year since 2006 when Haywood County Schools began giving random drug tests to high school students. About 5 percent of the students given the drug tests come up positive.

The intent of drug testing is not to punish students but to serve as a deterrent, explained Assistant Superintendent Bill Nolte.

“This is not a disciplinary program,” Nolte said.

Students don’t get suspended. Their teachers aren’t told — only the principal and parents are informed. Nor are the students automatically barred from sports or extracurricular activities as long as they comply with certain requirements, like counseling and regular drug testing going forward.

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The random drug tests aren’t given across the board to the entire student body — that would actually be unconstitutional. But public schools can legally test students involved in extracurricular activities.

In Haywood, any high school student in sports, band, chorus, cheerleading, any school-related clubs — even students who drive to school and park on campus — could be subject to testing. Parents can also elect to put their children on the list.

“Students are placed in a random selection pool if they are in extracurricular activities, if they drive a vehicle on campus or if their parents request they be put in the program,” Nolte said.

In Haywood County, just more than half the 2,200 high school students qualify for random drug testing. About one-fifth of those eligible — or 220 students — got tested during this past school year. It cost the school system $6,000 to conduct the drug tests.

“We believe that is a very good investment,” Nolte said at a recent school board meeting where he shared an annual recap of the drug test results.

The random testing policy could give students a convenient escape valve in the face of peer pressure.

“It gives students a opportunity to stay away from stuff because they are in the pool,” Nolte said. “They can say, ‘Sorry, I am in the testing program. I can’t do that.’”

Most importantly, however, the drug testing alerts parents that their child has been using drugs so they can intervene.

A 5-4 Supreme Court ruling declared random drug tests legal for students engaged extracurricular activities, but not the entire student body.

 

What other counties do

• Macon County Schools give mandatory drug tests to all high school students in interscholastic sports. At the start of each athletic season — fall, winter and spring — every student participating in a sport that season is tested. It came out to more than 1,000 students. Which day the test is given is a surprise. Additional random testing is conducted during the course of the season.

• Swain County Schools conducts random drug testing of middle and high school students who participate in any school-sponsored extracurricular activities.

• Jackson County Schools conduct random drug tests only for high school athletes.

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