Nixon-Smiley Consolidated Independent School District (NSCISD) administrators, including Superintendent Cathy Lauer, hosted a Q&A session last week to answer any questions pertaining to the district’s upcoming mandatory drug testing policy. The tests cover students in grades 7-12 who choose to participate in school-sponsored extracurricular activities as well as sixth-grade students “in a voluntary program if requested by a parent,” according to the policy. The drug-testing policy is set to be implemented Aug. 1.
In 2016, NSCISD students in grades 7-12 participated in the Texas School Survey of Drug and Alcohol Use. In every category, NSCISD students exceeded the overall state levels.
“I shared the information with the board in December of 2018. Although the data is from 2016, I had to admit it just wasn't on my radar as we were focused on increasing our academic scores,” Lauer said. “But in October, I was at a symposium with the superintendent in Lytle ISD, Michelle Smith. She told me about their drug testing policy and that caused me to do a little ‘needs assessment’ when I got back to my desk. I reviewed the most recent data we had and guess what? The need was very apparent!”
Community members, teachers and administrators have long been concerned about drugs being an issue in the Nixon-Smiley area, according to Lauer.
“I remember meeting with community members way back in 1997, when I came here, about their concerns,” she said. “Through all of this time, we have tried prevention/education programs (DARE, Shattered Dreams, Safe & Drug-Free Schools activities, etc.) Unfortunately, the results of the surveys I mentioned above have steadily worsened. Our problem is increasing.”
NSCISD’s drug-testing policy is pieced together using policies from other school districts such as Lytle, West, Leander and Gonzales ISD.
“I had a few others, but I found they were very similar,” Lauer noted.
Gonzales ISD initiated their drug-testing policy in the 2013-14 school year. According to GISD Superintendent Dr. Kim Strozier, the students tested are those participating in extracurricular activity at Gonzales Junior High, as well as, Gonzales High students who participate in extracurricular activity, have off-campus lunch or have parking privileges at the high school.
“The district is supportive of students and the maintenance of safe, secure and healthy learning environments for all students. This effort supports that initiative and serves as a proactive measure to keep schools drug free,” Strozier said. “The utmost desire is to provide for student health and safety, undermine negative peer pressure, deter from drug use, prevent injury or illness, encourage assistance if using from treatment programs and educate against harmful effects. The student random drug testing program is not meant to be punitive but supportive of healthy and safe environments.”
This August, “initial testing,” or testing prior to the beginning of the school year, will occur on scheduled days during the weeks prior to the beginning of school. After initial testing, the random testing window will open the first day of school and occur at intervals determined by administration throughout the school year.
One of the most frequently asked question has been, “why don’t you test staff as well?”
“I did call the school attorney about this because the board anticipated the question,” Lauer said. “I was told random drug testing of employees would violate their 4th amendment rights. We do test bus drivers because it is a condition of their CDL, but they know that coming in to the job. The retort from those posing the question is often, ‘Well where I work, we are tested.’ From what the attorney told me, that is acceptable in jobs that could be dangerous (such as a line worker at the processing plant.) But if anyone has a specific employee they are concerned about, they should contact me. If we agree there is ‘reasonable suspicion,’ we would be able to do something.”
Tests are completely random. Pinnacle Medical Management Corporation, the firm hired to conduct the testing, uses a computerized system that randomly selects students to test. Substances tested may include, but not limited to, marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, opiates, alcohol, PCP, methadone, etc. The district is purposefully vague in the policy as to what they will test for.
“I don’t want someone look at the list and thinking, ‘OK, this isn’t on the list, so I’ll take that!’” Lauer explained.
Each test will cost an average of $30. The district adjusted their budget to accommodate the testing.
“We moved $12,000 around in the budget to cover the first ‘round’ in August of 2019,” Lauer said. “We intend to test every student who intends to be in anything extra-curricular or park on campus during the 2019-2020 school year. So, we estimated that could be as many as 400 students.”
“For the budget year beginning Sept 1, 2019, we will probably budget around $20,000. That will cover the periodic visits and testing all participants in August 2020.”
Upon the first confirmed positive test, a student will be suspended from any extracurricular activity and have their privileges suspended for 30 school days following the date the student and parent are notified of the test results. A second confirmed test leads to a suspension of 90 school days. Consequences continue to accumulate for each offense.
Access to the test results are confidential and will only be disclosed to the student, the student’s parents and designated district officials who need the information to administer the drug testing programs. Law enforcement will not be involved with the process.
“Our purpose is not law enforcement or to catch students doing something illegal,” Lauer said. “We are hoping this is a deterrent — that maybe they will be able to resist peer pressure to drink or use drugs.”
Documents with more information are available on Nixon-Smiley CISD's website as well as attached to this story. Parents with further questions have the option of talking to a campus administrator or coming by the district to talk to the superintendent.