The Tamaqua Area School District is in the process of implementing its newly-approved policy for drug and alcohol testing for students in grades 7-12 who will participate in activities and those seeking parking privileges.
The first round of testing will be next month. Tamaqua Area Superintendent Carol Makuta announced at Tuesday evening's board of education meeting that an information session for parents and students with questions on the policy will be held Wednesday, July 28 at 6 p.m. in the school district auditorium.
The policy calls for mandatory testing for those planning to participate in school co-curricular activities. Random testing will them be performed throughout the school year.
Since the policy was approved, there had been no public comment on it at recent board meetings, and Makuta noted she had received no calls concerning it.
However, the policy has drawn attention from the media. A reporter and cameraman from a Wilkes-Barre television station showed up at Tuesday's meeting regarding the policy, even though it was not on the agenda.
At Tuesday's meeting, Tracy Perry of West Penn Township, a parent of Tamaqua students and a former candidate for school board, was interviewed by the TV crew and did ask some questions of the board regarding the policy, particularly regarding the consent form.
"The release of information form ... released to where? Where will the information be released to?" Perry asked.
Makuta said the form authorizes the information to be released to the contractor doing the testing as well as the high school principal.
Perry also questioned who would determine which substances the drug testing would screen.
"Why not screen for them all?" she inquired.
Makuta said it would be at the district's discretion what substances it would screen for.
Stephen Toth, assistant high school principal, said the test would screen mainly for cocaine, barbiturates, heroin, marijuana and alcohol.
"If there's an outbreak of steroid use, this gives us the ability to change and to test for it," he said.
Assistant Superintendent Raymond J. Kinder added that testing for anabolic steroids is significantly more costly than for the standard 10-panel substance test.
"We want to have the ability to throw it in, but not include it in every test," he explained. "It could be that 10 of 700 might test for steroids."
Perry also asked what the shelf life of the drug tests would be and how the samples would be stored.
Toth said the test samples would be stored for one year in a temperate, secure place. Board President Larry A. Wittig added that the accuracy rate is 99.6 percent.
Tamaqua Area's testing policy is based on that used by juvenile probation programs. Those testing positive would not be suspended from school but would be removed from their activities and parking privileges could be suspended for 45 days, as well as placed in assistance programs. Penalties would escalate for repeat offenders.