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City school board talks random student drug testing, having student board members

Rick Wagner • Jun 17, 2018 at 2:30 PM

KINGSPORT — Random drug testing for some Dobyns-Bennett students won’t occur until at least the 2019-20 academic year, but school board members are interested in moving on to consider details of a proposal later this year.

In addition, the Kingsport City Schools Board of Education during its annual retreat at the Eastman Planning Center near Bays Mountain Saturday indicated support for a student representative on the school board. 

WHAT “VOLUNTARY EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES” WOULD BE COVERED?

The five-member board discussed moving forward with random drug testing for all students, but under Tennessee law only students in “voluntary extracurricular activities” can be tested. BOE members asked Superintendent Jeff Moorhouse and his staff to come up with an explanation of what activities would make students subject to the testing.

“At this stage of the game, we’re not talking about next year,” Moorhouse said. “We’ve missed that window.”

The goal, Moorhouse said, is to come up with a recommendation by the October board meeting, have the board approve a plan around the year’s end and then communicate it to students, parents and the community so that testing could begin in the 2019-20 school year.

“We’re one of the few in the region who doesn’t test,” Assistant Superintendent of Administration Andy True said. However, he and Moorhouse said the testing is no “magic bullet” but rather would be part of an overall health and safety strategy.

D-B Principal Chris Hampton said the initial 2015 discussion was driven by D-B coaches.

“I think our coaches probably want it most,” Hampton said.

Moorhouse said plans for an emphasis on hands-on career and technical education, including internships, would make high school participants subject to the same drug testing and test failure consequences as adult employees. He and Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Rhonda Springham recently toured a Gestamp plant in Chattanooga where Hamilton County students intern at the auto parts operation.

“At Gestamp, they’re part of the drug-testing program,” Moorhouse said. 

Board member Todd Golden said he would like to have a program encouraging any student to come forward and self-identify as having a drug problem without fearing punitive consequences. The draft plan would allow student-athletes to continue playing on first offense but require them to undergo counseling and continued testing, while a second offense would result in time out of games, a third offense a year out and a fourth a lifetime out.

Inherent in that is the problem dealing with extracurricular activities that do no involve competition; thus, most systems limit testing to athletes. 

“Extracurricular” is defined as occurring outside school hours, voluntary and not resulting in or affecting a grade.

“I would love to see us move forward with this,” member Eric Hyche said, “as broad as reasonably possible.” 

HOW WOULD A STUDENT BOARD MEMBER BE CHOSEN?

Moorhouse also said he and his staff will work on a plan for student input to the board, including one of two school board members, to be presented to the BOE later. Member Carrie Upshaw and others said they would like to see other methods of student input, which could include groups of students meeting with school officials throughout the year to talk about topics of interest.

Hampton said the student(s) could be elected by their peers to the board, suggesting one be chosen through the student government and another appointed by D-B teachers and/or administrators. Lodal said she asked for a discussion on the matter after a withdrawn bill by state Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, would have required a student board member, although by law students can’t vote. She said he withdrew it when he learned current law permitted student board members.

WHAT ELSE DID THE BOE DISCUSS SATURDAY?

The board also talked about future consideration of changes in the teacher pay scale, moving forward with a plan that would make donations to the KCS Education Foundation tax-deductible and possible future expansions of D-B EXCEL and Cora Cox Academy.

Board members also indicated they wanted to keep the Sevier Middle name and mascot when that school moves to the current Sullivan North High/Middle building in 2021 but told Moorhouse to move forward with the idea of reversing a longtime practice of not funding playgrounds.

Kennedy Elementary in the Lynn Garden community, according to photos presented at the meeting, is in the worst shape and likely to be the first to get city funding. The Johnson Elementary “castle” playground, the second-most visited playground in the city, also is the object of a fundraising campaign to pay for a replacement.

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