Brownwood school trustees continued to wrestle Monday night with the merits of drug testing of students involved in extracurricular activities after receiving comments from three citizens and reports from administrators.
The discussion led members to consider ways students not involved in extracurricular activities can be taught to make wise decisions, and how the academic component could be utilized to discourage drug use.
“I see this broadening the issue,” Dr. Sue Jones, superintendent, said toward the end of what had consumed 2 1/2 hours of discussion on the topic. “I’ve heard several of you say drug testing alone is not what you’re willing to support.”
In response to trustees’ previous requests for additional information, Jones said about 400 students are involved in extracurricular activities at Brownwood Middle School. Brownwood High also has about 400, less than half its enrollment.
Jones also reported on ia discussion with an officials at Aledo ISD, which dropped its random drug testing program after a few years - Jones was not certain the exact length - because only one student tested positive after 190 tests. The district allowed parents to add their children to the pool of students in extracurricular activities, she said, and the one student who tested positive was among the latter group.
Assistant Superintendent Jeana Moss provided board members with information on the scope of preventative programs now in place in the schools, which includes a mandatory one-semester high school health class as well as the Choices and D.A.R.E. programs. She also discussed programs available through the Mid-Tex Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, and the Center for Life Resources.
“Both groups are anxious to work with us,” Moss said.
“It seems we’re weak on this from the educational side on drug, alcohol and substance abuse,” trustee Eric Evans said in his first meeting as a board member, suggesting awareness could piggyback with other academic courses — such as writing reports on the topic in English. Evans said he would like to obtain data on any changes in the level of extracurricular participation in school districts where drug testing has been implemented.
“I feel taking preventative measures is great, but we’ve got to do something about the here and now,” trustee Dr. Justin Murphy said. Later in the meeting, Murphy said his initial support of the proposal has been tempered by his study, and discussed concerns that testing of students in extracurricular activities alone ignores the situation of other students who are actually more at risk.
Murphy proposed a program that would establish a policy that would trigger drug testing after specific actions by any student, and would also offer incentives with an ongoing high school anti-drug program.
“The key thing is an overall educational approach that teaches kids to make the right decisions and to establish systems to hold them accountable when they don’t, because in the end, self-deterrence is the best deterrence,” Murphy said. “If all you do is random testing of extracurricular activities, what have you done? Does it really make a difference in the lives of students? I don’t want to indicate that I’m opposed to testing students involved in extracurricular activities, but I feel differently than I did a month ago based on my research.”
“I don’t think drug abuse occurs in a vacuum,” trustee Mark Bradshaw said. “It’s a complex set of circumstances. We’re an educational institution, and I don’t think drug testing helps us. I don’t think, as a school district, we’re prepared or ready to deal with that. From what I’ve read, the best approach is a community approach.” He proposed consulting with community partners to find out their thoughts about the best way schools can help, saying he believes they will say prevention is the key.
“We’re just one piece in a very complex puzzle,” Bradshaw said.
Brian Saffer, a parent who had presented arguments against the proposal at a public hearing April 23, returned Monday night with alternatives as well as information from other school systems that had implemented a program and discontinued it. Saffer pointed to the hidden costs of drug testing programs, and to information showing that extracurricular involvement helps shield students from substance abuse.
Support of a drug testing program was heard from Howard Payne University professor Keith Mask and Brownwood physician Dr. Tom Byrd.
“My opinion is this type of program is far more effective five to eight years out, when the students know this is the Brownwood way,” Mask said. “I urge you to make a decision that will ultimately change the culture of Brownwood schools and ultimately the community.”
Byrd pointed to his high school years in Killeen, remembering students involved in activities who lost scholarships and suffered other problems he believes could have been prevented with the deterrent of drug testing. The physician also said drug testing done at his medical office has proven reliable and beneficial.
Trustee John Nickols said later he could identify with Byrd’s comments, because he knew of a high school athletic team from which four of six members recruited by Division I universities were later found to have drug problems, largely due to community pressure to succeed.
“Drug testing might have prevented some of that in high school,” Nickols said, “But I’m not sure it would have made a difference in their later lives.”
In other business Monday, the board:
Heard Brown County Judge Ray West administer the oath of office to Evans, Sandra Garcia and Murphy. Evans is new to the board, assuming the unexpired term of David Bullion. They were declared elected by resolution after none of them garnered opposition when filing ending. Reelected its current slate of board officers, including President Michael Coppic, Vice President Bradshaw, Secretary Nickols and Parliamentarian Garcia. Approved a five-year agreement with KOXE-KOXE for the broadcast of Lions and Lady Lions sporting events. Evans asked if the agreement had ever been put out for competitive bids, and no one at the meeting remembered that happening. Evans said he thought that in an increasingly competitive radio market, the school district may be missing out on some revenue. The discussion came after a motion to accept was already offered, and it was approved on a 5-1 vote, with Evans opposed. Approved a new three-year agreement with the Band Booster Club for concession sales at Gordon Wood Stadium.