Random drug testing is starting to catch wind in school districts across the country. And one of them is the Jackson R-2 school district. The new policy is directed towards students involved in extracurricular activities. KRCU's Marissanne Lewis-Thompson spoke with Jackson R-2 school district superintendent Dr. John Link.
Lewis-Thompson: Recently, you all implemented the random drug testing policy in the Jackson R-2 school district. Why now?
Link: Well, honestly it's an opportunity for us to be proactive. We do not in our opinion looking at our statistics, we don't foresee that we have a drug issue in our school buildings. Although we do know that around the country continued drug use is growing. So we kind of got together last year, visited our coaches and our administrators and wanted to give our students an opportunity to say no. If they ever find themselves in a situation to where they're being maybe peer pressured, or an avenue to stay out of those situations. So, as our district looked at this we thought it was just a great time to be proactive and to see what we could do. One more tool we could put in the tool belt of our kids to make good decisions.
Lewis-Thompson: What have the parents been saying about this?
Link: You know it's mixed. We've got a lot of positive support. More positive support I believe than those that might be against random drug testing. But most of the questions that we've been hearing is basically just kind of how it's going to happen. What's going to happen with the results. More of a confidentiality type questions. And one of the things before we even took this to the board, one of the things that we wanted to make sure was that we had all those questions answered. Once the board approved it, we then held some meetings at our back to school nights to answer those questions with the people, our patrons face to face as opposed to through email or things of that nature. So, we wanted to give them the opportunity to ask the questions. And again I feel like we went to our athletic director John Martin, [we] went to all of our fall sport back to the season type meetings with parents and discussed it with them. So we want to get that out on the forefront and then answer those questions. And for the most part I think you'll never have everybody on your side with a situation like this, but I think we've got a major percentage of support.
Lewis-Thompson: Tell me a little bit about the types of drugs that you all will be looking for.
Link: Well, the test that we will do is called a--I think it's called like a 12 point test. And it looks at 12 different drugs. And I don't know them exactly, which you know I couldn't name them all off. I probably couldn't pronounce them anyway. But it's more we're looking at the over the counter medication on some. We're looking at of course marijuana. We're looking at all the other types of drugs that we kind of see around. They'll be barbiturates, cocaine, methamphetamines. Things of that nature. Cannabis, which would take care of most of your marijuana and grass. Things of that nature. And then there is an option for alcohol. One of the things we've not done yet is [and] we're not saying that we're going to test everybody for alcohol, but in the back of our mind we understand that if you take one avenue away another avenue may open up. And if it does then we have the option of including that later or at anytime.
Lewis-Thompson: This is meant for students who are participating in extracurricular activities. What would the consequences be for students who are found to have drugs in their system?
Link: Well and I think that's one of the key components of this whole thing for students, parents and for the school. We really want this to be an educational initiative and not really a disciplinary initiative. So, students that are submitted to the Missouri State High School Activity Association on a roster that they will be competing in a MSHSAA type event throughout the school year will be placed in the pool. Once the student is tested and it does come back positive and it's confirmed, the student on the first offense then would just be out of activities in that sport that they're in at that time for 15 days. During that 15 days, we would give them opportunities to work with our social workers. We have three amazing social workers that work in our district that would be able to provide resources and just be a liaison for that family if they wish. And then also we have an educational component through an online software program that we've designed that the student will have to go through and it kind of talks about making good choices and things of that nature. So, the thing that really we believe is the best part about this is this gives a parent an opportunity to know if their child is making good decisions or bad decisions without the police getting involved. Because a lot of times, the first time a parent might hear that their child has made a poor decision it might be from a phone call or a knock on the door from the police officer. This gives us an opportunity on that first offense at 15 days. Second offense at 90 days. Third offense if they have a positive the third time, then they're out for a full year. But we strictly make it event disciplined. They don't get suspended from school. They don't sit out of class. They're in their regular routine of the day. So, we're really trying to make this not a drug task force. “We got you. We want to catch you type situation.” More of an educational situation to where we can see some child maybe going down the wrong direction. And we can work with that family to make sure that we can hopefully straighten that ship out of a little bit.
Lewis-Thompson: What have the students been saying? They're the ones being tested for this.
Link: Yeah. And you know what I think the reason why we've not had a whole lot of push back from the student body is that they get it. The students at Jackson they get it. They understand what kind of student they want representing their school. The understand what kind of student they want walking the halls with them. And our coaches have just done a tremendous job. And our advisers, our sponsors, our band and choir teachers have done a tremendous job of educating our students as we've gone along. You know we started this process back in probably January or February of last year of looking into it. And we started from the beginning talking to kids and talking to some parents about it. We did not want this to be a show up in August and boom here's this new thing and you weren't aware of it. So we've been building this process and continuing to talk with students and talk with parents as we've gone through this process. Now will there be some parents that say we haven't heard about this? You know, maybe. But for the most part, anybody that it impacts should have heard something along the lines of what we were doing. For the most part, we've had no drawbacks.
Lewis-Thompson: I know you mentioned drugs aren't a big problem in your school district, but there is a big problem with opioid abuse in this particular region. Do you think this will possibly help students make the best decisions, so they won't contribute to the high statistics we have in this area?
Link: You know, that's our prayer. It really is. As we started this whole thing, our thought was basically what you just stated. The statistics are that drug use continues to grow. And we sit between Memphis and St. Louis right on I-55. And that's just a corridor of drug traffic. So, it's in inevitable that at some point in time the Cape Jackson area is going to be infiltrated with these things. So, if we can educate our kids on the downfalls and how to make better decisions and things of that nature. You know the problem with random drug testing is that we may never know the effects of random drug testing, because there's no way to measure how many kids did not participate because of random drug testing. There's just no way to measure that. So, in my opinion and what I shared with school board that you know if we save one child from going down the wrong road, then it's well worth the minimal amount of time and effort and funds that we have to do to do this.