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Directors feel drug policy passes legal muster

Published September 24. 2010 05:00PM

The Panther Valley School Board on Thursday heard from parents who questioned - and challenged the legality of - the district's planned policy to randomly test students for drug use.

But school board members say the policy, created by the Pennsylvania School Board Association, passes legal muster and has safeguards in place for possible false-positive test results.

Mrs. Clewell, who has a daughter in high school said she felt "forced into" signing the consent form, with only a 48-hour window, to allow the tests so her daughter could attend the prom.

"I don't know if that was handled legally," she said.

Clewell also said she was concerned about false-positive results. Superintendent Rose Porembo said that if parents believe a positive test result is wrong, they will get a letter to take to their family doctor, who will be asked to list all prescription and nonprescription drugs the child takes. That list will then be sent to the Redwood Toxicology Lab in California that performs the tests. The lab will match the list against the test results.

Clewell also said that while she respects the intent of the program, she believed there was not enough parental involvement as the policy was being considered.

"I think it was decided in a rather rapid manner, without much parental discussion," she said. "It would have been nice if there was some kind of public forum to answer our questions."

She also asked what would happen if a parent could get to the school within the hour's allotted time to be with their child during the test. Porembo said that the test would be done without the parent. However, she said school officials would choose the date of the tests, and compile a list of parents to be notified. The parents will be called early in the morning and told when the tests will be conducted.

Parent Mike Celantano challenged the constitutionality of the policy, and said that because college applications ask whether a student has ever been guilty of "any type of misconduct," the testing fails to be confidential, as the district has said it would be. Further, answering such a question honestly could cost a student admission, he said.

That prompted school director David Hiles to remark that in order to avoid those consequences, "just don't have the kids do drugs."

Celantano said school districts in Florida and elsewhere have been successfully sued over similar policies.

"It's going to be challenged," he said.

Porembo said six of the district's 1,760 students were arrested in 2009 for drug or alcohol offenses. Celantano said that wasn't enough to justify a random drug testing policy.

School director Anthony DeMarco said the policy was crafted by the state School Board Association and would withstand legal challenges.

"This was not written in two or three nights at a school board meeting," he said, adding that the policy is new, and that changes could be considered.

The school board on Aug. 26 adopted the policy, which calls for random drug testing of students in sixth through 12th grades involved in extra-curricular activities or who want to drive cars to school and park on school grounds. But the vote to adopt the policy was split, with Mickey Angst, Irene Genther, Donna Trimmel, and Bill Hunsicker opposed.

Later in Thursday's meeting, Porembo lauded athletic director Kristin Black for her role in coordinating the policy. Black explained the policy to students and compiled a list of students by grade, activity, parent attendance at drug screenings and when the students' forms were signed.

The school district has spent about $2,000 on 400 urine collection cups and certification, in addition to hiring a substitute secretary for week to enter information into a database. The tests will be sent to Redwood Labs, which will assign each student a number. The lab will provide the district "on demand the selection of students who will be tested periodically," Porembo said.

She said there are 503 students in the "pool," - 59 percent of the middle and high school population. Of that number, 164 students were enrolled in the testing program by their parents even though they do not participate in any extra-curricular activity. As of Sept. 23, 30 students were deemed ineligible to participate in extra-curricular activities because they failed to return the paperwork, and 16 students withdrew from activities.

Eighty-two parents asked to be present at the testing, she said.

Porembo said seven parents called her about the new policy. Of those, three opposed the policy and four had questions and requested to be present during testing.

She said school nurses and administrators are in the process of receiving certification to administer the tests.

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