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Sullivan student drug testing proposal getting positive feedback

Rick Wagner • Mar 7, 2018 at 8:20 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County school board member Mark Ireson said feedback on his proposal to test high school student-athletes and others involved in extracurricular activities so far has received positive response, including some folks who want it to apply also at the middle school level.

The draft policy, which would add to the current drug testing policy based on reasonable suspicion, would initiate random testing for alcohol and drugs for student-athletes, cheerleaders and those involved in other extracurricular activities and clubs. Based on a model Tennessee School Boards Association policy that also was the basis for Bristol, Tenn., and Johnson City policies on random drug testing of students, the policy mostly reflects what is allowed and outlined under Tennessee law.

However, Ireson said it differs with the Bristol policy, which forces any athlete with a positive test to be out of athletics for a year, by having a less harsh first offender penalty, and that unlike the Johnson City policy it does not include students who drive to school in the group subject to random tests.

For a first offense, the draft policy calls for students to be suspended from all extracurricular activities for 14 days. A second offense would bring a suspension for 30 days, third for a year and fourth forever. All confirmed incidents would be referred to a school resource officer. 

The draft was presented for review at Monday’s Board of Education meeting but underwent no vote or discussion. The board is to consider it during its next work session, March 29, after a Policy Committee review. During a work session last week, however, the BOE questioned the policy including an “etc.” after a partial list of extracurricular activities and also questioned inclusion of band in the policy, which in local schools is a cocurricular activity for which students receive academic credit.

Ireson said a policy by definition is broad, while procedures are more detailed and can be changed over time as warranted. For instance, the number of drugs covered by the random tests is not specified, which he said would be done in the procedures.

However, under federal court interpretations, curricular or cocurricular activities for which students receive a grade cannot be subject to random drug tests but can be subject to tests given reasonable suspicion. 

Ireson, who was unable to attend the work session, said he has no problem excluding band members from the pool of students subject to random testing if they get a grade for participation. He said he believes a policy requiring a year out of athletics is simply too stiff for a first offense, and he said he does not plan to push subjecting student drivers to random testing.

He attended a February meeting organized by Susie Weatherall, a Dobyns-Bennett High School parent concerned about student drug use in local schools. During the meeting, Ireson said he planned to introduce a draft drug testing policy. D-B Principal Chris Hampton said then that the city school board would be presented a report, an update of one it received in 2015 on potential random drug testing of students in athletics.

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