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JC schools director to propose expanded drug testing system

SAM WATSON • Feb 3, 2007 at 11:30 AM

Students who drive to Science Hill High School could be the next group to undergo random drug tests, joining the high school's athletes.

Johnson City Schools Director Richard Bales intends to propose the expanded testing system to the city's Board of Education when it meets Monday.

"We want to make sure that we're keeping kids safe and that we're doing all that we can do to make sure that they don't use drugs," Bales said Friday. "It's just sort of a proactive approach.

"What we've heard from kids and some parents is that they've been appreciative of the random drug testing in terms of athletics."

After the school board approved the initial policy last May, Science Hill's athletic department began administering tests to athletes last fall, selecting 30 students at random for each round of tests.

Bales expected his recommendation to expand the program to draw the board's attention.

"I am sure there will be discussion around that," he said. "We'll have to develop policy and procedure for that should the recommendation be approved. Probably next month, I'll bring the policy back that will mirror what's happening in athletics."

Like participation in athletics, driving to school is not a required school activity, Bales said, and courts have upheld testing programs that are not related to compulsory attendance.

"Driving and parking on campus is a privilege, not necessarily a right, and we certainly wouldn't want any kids who are taking drugs to be on the roads," he said. "So, if this is one more way we can help that or bring notice to that, then we want to do it."

Bales said he was not particularly concerned about testing students whose circumstances might require them to drive to school.

"Our intent is not to focus on any one particular sub-population but to try to help as many kids as we can," he said.

School officials once considered extending the program to students involved in all extracurricular programs, but the school system's attorney advised against the practice given that students receive grades for some activities, such as band and chorus.

"That's why we're not testing any of the fine arts groups, because they're tied to academics," Bales said. "You can't have consequences that are tied to academics."

Science Hill Principal Dave Chupa said the school issues parking permits to students, and about 700 students have permits this year. Any student with a valid license is eligible.

Given approval to test drivers, both Chupa and Bales said the administration would have to identify someone to oversee the new tests, since the school's athletic trainer already devotes a significant amount of his time to the athletic drug tests in addition to his regular duties.

So far, the school has administered six rounds of tests to athletes at random. Although initial rounds produced no positive results for drugs, the school recently recorded one positive test.

Chupa said the administration later tested the athlete a second time and recorded a clean drug screen. The student elected to participate in drug counseling but chose not to continue participating in athletics.

"Hopefully, we helped that specific individual," Bales said. "Granted it's one, but I think if we help one, it's worth it."

Monday's school board agenda also will include Bales' recommendation to limit new K-5 tuition enrollment to two of the city's eight elementary schools.

"We have to continue to look at our space issues, and for next year, and that limited space will be at North Side and South Side," Bales said. "So, my recommendation to the board will be that we accept tuition students on a space-available basis at both of those campuses."

As a grandfather measure, the other six schools will continue to accept students already enrolled there, as well as their siblings.

"Again, that's space-available, too, as it always is," Bales said.

The board is scheduled to meet in regular session 6 p.m. Monday at Columbus Powell Center, corner of East Maple and South Roan streets.

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