LANDER — Lander school leaders, for the most part, embraced a proposed policy that would have students involved in extracurricular activities tested for drugs and alcohol and face consequences spanning being barred from practice to being outlawed from activities. But they did suggest the edict should proceed more slowly.
The school board would like to learn from neighboring educators the results of similar policies; the cost of drug testing; and the outcome they might expect if Lander students are asked to submit themselves to test tubes measuring more than their athletic or academic prowess.
Fremont County School District 1 Superintendent Dr. Dave Barker went over the proposed policy during the board meeting last week, explaining that it modeled a similar policy upheld by the Wyoming Supreme Court after being challenged by a group of students and their parents in Goshen County in 2011.
Under the policy, students in any extra-curricular activities would be subject to random drug testing, with escalating consequences for positive tests that would expel them from activity participation for longer and longer periods.
A student who refused a test would be barred from participation in activities for a calendar year; after a fourth positive test, the student would be prohibited from activities in the district forever.
“I appreciate your passion about wanting to keep our students safe,” board member Dr. Kathy Hitt told Chair Jared Kail, who requested the proposed drug-testing item. “I just have some concerns about this policy.”
Hitt explained that she felt the existing consequences for drug use in the student handbook were more stringent than those included in the policy governing testing for students in activities.
Barker explained that the more strict consequences in the student handbook — which include possible expulsion from school — apply to a student found using drugs or alcohol on school property. The testing for students involved in activities, however, would simply test for the presence of drugs or alcohol, which could have been consumed over the weekend, for instance, he said.
The Wyoming Supreme Court only upheld testing for students who choose to participate in activities; a policy that would randomly drug test the entire student body has not been tested by the state’s highest court.
“[School-wide drug testing] has never gone before the Supreme Court, and we don’t want to be the first one to see that go,” Barker said.
Hitt asked whether many students involved in activities had been disciplined under the existing policy barring drug and alcohol use at school, information that administrators plan to bring forward at a future meeting.
“My point would be: Are we kind of targeting the wrong group?” Hitt asked. “I think it’s an important piece of data … The other thing that I’m concerned about too is [needing] some sort of a multi-pronged approach to this.
“We talk about what will happen if a student is abusing drugs or alcohol, but where do we do prevention?” she added.
“I think everybody’s concerned about that,” said Margaret Jacobson of students abusing drugs.
She spoke during the public comment section of the meeting.
Jacobson explained it was an issue that falls into what mothers and fathers should be addressing with their children.
“In some ways, having all of these policies all the time can disempower the parents [of the children you’re trying to protect],” she said. “This is also a shared responsibility with the mothers and fathers of the students.”
Maureen Donohoue Howell said the proposed policy divided students into different classes.
“It creates two categories,” she said of students: those who are in activities, and those who are not.
Howell spoke of the district’s current policy regarding discipline of students caught abusing drugs or alcohol on campus. Those kids face expulsion, she pointed out.
“It is completely at conflict with the way that the policies that will be applied to students who are not in activities [are applied],” she said.
Instead, Lander schools should focus attention on the students who need help and contact their families and give them resources.
The children who are in activities, she pointed out, are probably less likely to need that kind of intervention than those who are not.
“Kids that are involved in extracurricular activities are shown to be much less likely, particularly at a younger age, to be involved in drugs or alcohol,” she said. “It’s not something that’s related to sports, it’s related to something in the child’s life.”
Howell also pointed to the draft policy’s reliance on a “Medical Review Officer” to administer the program.
“Fremont County,” she pointed out, “has trouble getting somebody to serve as a public health officer.”
A lot of work, she explained, needs to be done before adopting a mandate that requires qualified health officials to administer the proposed drug-testing policy.
Although the Lander school board in upcoming meetings is expected to examine more details from neighboring districts that have similar policies in place, such as associated costs and how many students faced discipline, board member Aileen Brew shared some data she’d gathered from Goshen County, which enacted drug testing for students involved in activities over a decade ago.
She said in 2015, that district reported it spent between $18,000 and $20,000 per year on testing, and a sample year included 600 drug tests, with 11 positive – primarily for marijuana.
“[They’ve] noticed very little change in the first five or six years of those numbers in terms of students testing positive,” she reported.
Kail said it was the right choice to proceed slowly with evaluating the policy, which he said could be implemented this coming spring. He agreed that a multi-pronged approach including prevention was necessary but added that prevention events he’d attended with his family included very few other parents.
“Trying to get parents interested in this and trying to educate our kids through their parents has been completely ineffective,” he said.
Those prevention efforts should still continue, but he addressed the question of whether the district would be targeting the wrong group of students.
“I think it’s an irrelevant question. In my heart of hearts, I’d like to test the whole student body,” Kail said.
While he might want to do so in order to protect all students, not just those in activities, Kail acknowledged that the Supreme Court has mandated that that was the group the district had the authority to test. It may not be as effective as testing all students, he said, but it will be more effective than testing no one.
This story was published on Jan. 25, 2023.