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Maize school district to stop random drug testing of students; Mulvane to start

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, April 30, 2013, at 8:53 a.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, April 30, 2013, at 9:39 a.m.

Maize school leaders have decided to discontinue random drug testing of students who participate in extracurricular activities, while the Mulvane district plans to begin the practice this fall.

Karen McDermott, spokeswoman for Maize schools, said the school board voted 5-2 earlier this month to discontinue the drug-testing policy, which went into effect in 2007.

“They made the decision … based on the feedback they got from administration and how the students were feeling about the testing,” McDermott said.

“They felt like they could get a bigger bang for their buck by focusing on the prevention and education piece.”

Board members April Barnard and Bruce Nicholson voted against dropping the policy.

Maize was one of several Kansas districts that randomly drug-tested some students. Under the policy, any student in seventh grade or higher had to agree to a possible test if they wanted to participate in school-sponsored activities, including sports, band, school dances, graduation ceremonies and even parking in the school lot.

Derby, Wellington and El Dorado have similar policies.

Last week, the Mulvane school board voted unanimously to approve random drug testing at Mulvane High School.

Tom Keil, director of human resources and communication for Mulvane schools, said 79 percent of respondents in a recent community survey said they supported random drug testing at the high school.

A committee recommended launching the program, which is expected to cost about $5,000 a year, Keil said. The district has applied for a grant from the city of Mulvane’s drug and alcohol prevention program to finance the program.

“At this point, we’re still working out the details with legal counsel about how the program would be administered” and what repercussions students would face if they test positive, Keil said.

About 600 students attend Mulvane High School; about 90 percent are likely to be part of the drug-testing pool.

The Maize district has spent more than $31,000 over the past six years on drug testing, conducting an average of 35 to 40 tests a month, said McDermott, the Maize spokeswoman. During that time, four students tested positive.

When the program started, it was financed through grant funds, McDermott said. When those were no longer available, the money came out of the district’s general fund.

Maize will continue to test students suspected of drug use and will use drug-sniffing dogs to search for illegal substances in lockers and school parking lots, McDermott said.

Shelia Rathbun, director of secondary education for Maize schools, recently completed her doctoral dissertation about random drug testing, interviewing students at Maize South High School and elsewhere to get their perspectives on the policy.

Rathbun, a former principal at Maize South, was an assistant principal when the policy went into effect in 2007.

She said most students she spoke with said they think the money spent on drug tests could be better spent elsewhere.

“They mention the field trips and other things that have been cut, and I guess I feel in some ways like they do,” Rathbun told The Eagle earlier this year. “Can’t we be using that money in other ways?”

Public schools’ drug-testing policies are restricted by the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.

But Supreme Court decisions have upheld public school policies that administer drug tests in limited ways, such as on students participating in extracurricular activities. The court also allowed for testing of students for whom there is a “reasonable suspicion” of drug use.

McDermott said Tuesday that board members discontinued the drug-testing policy but “wanted the administrative team to let them know what the plan was for next year” regarding substance-abuse prevention and education.

Part of the plan will be training teachers and staff members to recognize signs of substance abuse, she said.

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SuzanneTobias.

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