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West Ridge High likely name of new Sullivan County school

Rick Wagner • Mar 30, 2018 at 3:00 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Spoiler alert: Sullivan County’s new secondary school to open in 2020 likely will be named West Ridge High School, with the choice for colors to be unveiled on Tuesday before a school board vote and the mascot not until the groundbreaking on May 4.

Meanwhile, based on a spirited school board work session discussion, it is at best uncertain if any students at that new school — or any current or future Sullivan County high school — will be subject to random drug tests.

The school board member who is proposing the drug testing policy said he is prepared to remove language to have drug testing based on the “reasonable suspicion” of a principal, adding that he will move to delay action on it during Tuesday’s April 3 school board meeting to give more time for discussion.

HOW DID THE WEST RIDGE NAME EMERGE?

Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski asked that the board let the online survey winning mascot choice, either the Hawks, Jets or Wolves, be unveiled at the ceremonial groundbreaking at noon on May 4 at the site, which is off Exit 63 of Interstate 81 near Tri-Cities Airport. She said one of those garnered 66 percent of the votes and would be part of the ceremony.

“The community really migrated toward ‘Ridge,’ ” Rafalowski said.

She said she intended to announce the survey-winning name and colors Tuesday, but an invitation passed out to board members and reporters during the meeting included the West Ridge name. The other choices were Sullivan West and Sullivan Ridge high schools. The four color choices were purple, gray and white; sky blue, charcoal and white; black, white and silver; and navy, light blue and sliver. The invitations included a light blue border.

Come the fall of 2020, the 1,700-student school is to replace Sullivan South and North high schools and much or all of Sullivan Central, with some Central zone students possibly sent to Sullivan East. The recommendation of the naming committee of teachers, parents and students reflected the results of the online survey that ended at noon on March 23. In naming Sullivan East Middle School, a new county school set to open in the fall of 2019, the committee, Rafalowski and board honored survey results.

WHAT ABOUT DRUG TESTING STUDENTS?

Also during an almost three-hour work session, the county Board of Education got a report on the new school and discussed in detail random drug testing that member Mark Ireson has proposed for students in extracurricular activities. His proposal is based on a Tennessee School Boards Association model policy. 

Ireson said he fears that if he calls for a vote on his proposed policy at Tuesday’s meeting it will fail. He repeatedly said the board’s place is to approve policy and Rafalowski’s is to make procedures, although Vice Chairman Randall Jones said on this issue the procedure is of paramount importance and he thought it should apply to all extracurricular groups, clubs or activities, not just athletics. Rafalowski said if the proposal is approved, she will put together a procedure but tell the board about it and not change it without notifying the board.

“The drug culture is a problem in our area,” Ireson said. “You can’t drug test every student in your school. In a public school you can’t do that.”

However, member Jerry Greene said choosing to randomly test only public students in athletics could be seen as discrimination. Rafalowki said current procedure is that school resource officers handle suspected student drug or alcohol use.

TWO ATTORNEYS’ CONCERNS

Board member Matthew Spivey, an attorney, said just because something is in a statue doesn’t necessarily make it constitutional. He also said the proposal would have the school system take on a police function and questioned if the proposal is a solution looking for a problem that doesn’t exist.

“Reasonable suspicion is a police function,” Spivey said, adding that athletes probably are the least likely to use drugs and that he wants feedback from coaches and principals. Further, Rafalowski and board Chairman Michael Hughes said school personnel would have to be trained on the policy, including being witnesses when drug test samples are given.

Rafalowski said the athletes-only random testing was what the board ended around 2007 upon the advice of school board attorney Pat Hull. On Thursday, Hull said an early 2000s U.S. Supreme Court ruling gave athletes as an example of an extracurricular group to test and “schools jumped on that with a vengeance.”

Tennessee Code Annotated 49-6-4213 limits random testing to those in extracurricular activities, and Hull said random tests are not legal for student drivers, as once was the policy in Johnson City and has been in other East Tennessee systems.

Of the whole issue, Hull said: “It is sort of a lawsuit waiting to happen.” 

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in June of 2002 the high court “broadened the authority of public schools to test students for illegal drugs. The court ruled to allow random drug tests for all middle and high school students participating in competitive extracurricular activities. The ruling greatly expanded the scope of school drug testing, which previously had been allowed only for student athletes.”

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