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Board rescinds drug test policy

Published September 23. 2011 05:01PM

Panther Valley School Board on Thursday rescinded a drug testing policy that sparked a lawsuit against the district.

The board voted 5-3, with David Hiles, Anthony DeMarco and President Jeff Markovich opposing and Koreen Nalesnik absent, to rescind the policy.

The policy, adopted by a 5-4 vote on Aug. 26, 2010, provided for three kinds of drug and alcohol testing: random mandatory testing, voluntary testing and reasonable suspicion testing, beginning with sixth grade. The policy required students to submit to random, suspicionless urinalysis drug and alcohol testing in order to participate in athletics or extracurricular activities through school or to maintain a school parking pass.

On May 5, Carbon County Judge Steven R. Serfass granted a preliminary injunction ordering the school district to stop enforcing the random testing policy. In his 19-page ruling, Serfass wrote that the district must immediately allow the students to resume participation in their extra-curricular activities.

School directors on Thursday dropped the random testing policy, but kept the voluntary and reasonable suspicion components.

Hiles was incensed by the board action.

"I hope the people who brought the suit with the ACLU aren't feeling proud of themselves for what they just did to the students and parents of Panther Valley," he said. He said the policy, and similar ones in other districts, "have become the focal point to demonize school boards that are doing nothing more than trying to help our students."

Hiles said the policy was not meant to punish students, but to help them avoid drug use.

"It would give them an out from peer pressure," allowing them to decline drug use because it may endanger their participation in extracurricular activities.

"I just think it's a sad day when the state of Pennsylvania wants us to educate the kids, they want us to feed the kids, they want us to transport the kids, they want us to give the kids their medications. But they won't let us take care of them in this manner, which is a major concern of parents," he said.

School director Roy Angst said he had opposed random testing from the start because the state Supreme Court had ruled it unconstitutional.

The status of the lawsuit, filed on March 9 by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of then-senior Jeremy Thomas, his sister, a junior at the time and identified as M.T., and their parents, Morgan and Donna Thomas, was unclear as of early Friday.

Morgan Thomas was in the audience Thursday, but did not speak publicly.

The nine-page suit asked Carbon County Court to stop the random testing part of the policy because it was an "unconstitutional invasion of privacy." Both Jeremy and M.T. were barred from extracurricular activities because they refused to consent to the testing.

The suit further argued that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had already ruled that school drug testing policies "must be supported by sufficient evidence of need in order to pass Constitutional muster."

The suit argued that Panther Valley did not analyze drug and alcohol use by students in sixth through 12th grades who are involved in school activities before adopting the policy, nor did it study the efficacy of a random testing policy as a way to address any such problems.

Further, the random testing policy singled out students who are involved in activities, despite the fact that participation in activities decreases the likelihood that a student will abuse drugs or alcohol, the suit said.

The school district on Thursday released a public statement on the matter. Superintendent Rosemary Porembo read the statement, which said the district enacted the policy after recent surveys indicated that a majority of students had used alcohol and significant numbers had used drugs including marijuana, and that there was nothing wrong with using such substances.

"According to the results of the (ACLU) lawsuit, it was determined the statistics did not prove Panther Valley to have enough of a problem in the school district to warrant random drug testing," she read. "Although we feel that any amount of a drug problem is too much, we have been ordered to discontinue random drug testing."

The district will continue to offer voluntary drug testing for students in sixth grade and up, she said. Forms for parents or guardians to enroll children in the program are available online or at district building offices.

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