Emery High School is hosting a public hearing on the school's proposal to adopt a drug-testing policy for students involved in extracurricular activities. The hearing will be held on Nov. 20, at 6 p.m. in the Spartan Center Little Theater.
According to Principal Larry W. Davis, the hearing is part of the school administration's efforts to advance the proposal while giving the public and all Emery High stakeholders an opportunity to give input and receive additional information about drug-testing in public schools. "We want to be very transparent about what we will be proposing to the school board," Davis said. "Giving the public an opportunity to be heard on this matter is a very important step in this process." He pointed out that while this is an Emery High proposal, adoption of the policy will ultimately have to be approved by the Emery County Board of Education.
Davis said that the growing use by teenagers of illegal drugs, including alcohol, is infiltrating school organizations and undermining organizational missions. In addition, there are safety issues involved, especially in athletic programs. "It is our intent to provide safe and wholesome programs of the highest quality," Davis said. "Drug abuse among members of these organizations undermines that objective. More importantly, we care about these kids and want them clear-headed and focused in their pursuit of a meaningful education and positive extracurricular experiences."
Efforts geared toward adding a drug-testing policy at Emery High have been active for several years. However, it wasn't until the 2012-13 school year that this pursuit became public. The school's administrative team discussed the proposal with faculty, community council, student council, and coaching staffs and received full support. In addition, the team took the proposal to all students in Learning Strategies classes and gave them an opportunity to ask questions and give input.
After the presentations, students were asked to take a poll on the proposal and to choose one of the following options: 1) I support drug-testing... 2) I do not support drug-testing... 3) I need more information about drug testing... 4) I have no opinion about drug testing. A total of 356 students took the poll with 251 (77 percent) in favor of drug testing. Just 32 students (nine percent) indicated that they do not support drug testing.
During the summer, parents of Emery High School student were invited to take the same poll as their children. Information was provided to parents about drug-testing through direct mailing and the school's website. During registration in August 327 parents voted with 251 (77 percent) voting in favor of drug testing and just 17 (five percent) voting against.
According to Davis, school districts are allowed to adopt drug-testing policies impacting students involved in extracurricular activities since such involvement is deemed a privilege rather than a property right. "We cannot test all students attending our school just because they are students," Davis said. "However, we can test those involved in our extracurricular activities because there are certain requirements that have to be met to claim membership. One of these requirements, we believe, should be 'drug-alcohol-and tobacco-free.'"
While a specific policy for proposal to the board is yet to be finalized, Davis said that it will involve a parent consent form for testing, the assigning of random numbers to those involved in tested programs, and weekly random testing. It is anticipated that the initial testing will involve only those students in high school sports, drill team, and cheerleading. Students who test positive for illegal drugs will not be referred to court but will be held to the Utah High School Activities Association's sanctions which include: first offense, suspension from two events; second offense, six-week suspension from events; and third offense, 18-week suspension from events.
Regarding the testing, it is anticipated that four or five numbers per week will be drawn from the activity pool. The students assigned to those numbers will then be instructed to provide a urine sample which will be sent to a local lab for testing. The process will protect student privacy as much as possible, and parents will be notified of the results. Currently, the school is negotiating with local agencies for gathering samples and lab testing.
Regarding the costs, Emery High School will propose a $10 activity participation fee increase. Currently, students are charged $25 to participate in athletic programs with a cap of $50. If approved, the fee would increase to $35 with a cap of $60. Non-athletic fees for organizations to be tested would be a flat $10 rate.
The public hearing on Nov. 20, will be designed to give those interested time to state their feelings about the drug-testing proposal. Those who wish to speak to this matter will be asked to sign in, and comments will be allowed according to the sign up list. A time limit will be set for each speaker. School officials, as well as representatives from the Emery County Sheriff's Office, will be available to answer questions although the hearing is not designed as a panel discussion.