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Jackson schools might expand drug testing

drugsA bigger number of Jackson County students could be subject to random drug testing if a proposed policy change being considered by the school board gets approved.

Currently, only high school student-athletes are eligible for drug testing, but the policy — proposed by Superintendent Mike Murray — would expand the eligible pool to high school students who participate in any extracurricular activity or hold a school parking permit.

“I don’t really want to get involved in people’s business. I’m not trying to be Big Brother,” Murray said. “I really do feel that if a child decides not to do drugs because it might cost them being in a club or parking on campus, it’s worth every bit of the money and effort.”

During the 2013-14 school year, 157 student-athletes at Smokey Mountain High School and Blue Ridge School were drug tested. Of those, five tested positive. The school spent about $9,000 on drug testing last year, Murray said. 

It hasn’t been decided yet how much money would be allocated for drug testing under the new policy or how often the random tests would be conducted. For now, the school board is just working on gathering public input into how the policy should work, Murray said. However, it appears that many on the board support the notion.

“I would say right now pretty much there is a real good chance it will have a favorable vote,” said Chairman Ken Henke. 

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Parents have been asking the system to do more to prevent drug use in schools, he said, and this is one way to make that happen. 

“I have yet to have anybody come by and tell me this is wrong, we shouldn’t be doing this, or so forth,” Henke said. “Parents want to take care of their children, and we as a school board, a school system, want to do the same thing.”

Jackson Schools won’t be treading new ground with the policy change. 

In Haywood County, students who park on campus or participate in after-school activities, athletic or not, are already eligible for random drug testing. Parents can also choose to put their child on the list. 

Macon County, however, has a policy similar to Jackson’s current one, with only students on school sports teams eligible for testing. Every athlete undergoes mandatory drug testing when they first make a team, though students don’t get any notification of when they’ll be asked to take the test, said Superintendent Chris Baldwin. After the initial test, athletes can be randomly selected for drug testing.

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