PLAINWELL, MI — Students who want to play sports or join other school clubs at Plainwell Community Schools may soon be subject to random drug testing.
The proposed policy would allow the district to test students’ urine for nicotine, marijuana and other drugs, and was the subject of school board discussion and public comment from parents at a meeting on Monday, 4 November. The proposed policy will come back to the Board of Directors for a vote at a later meeting.
Participation in high school sports and other extracurricular activities is “a privilege, not a right,” according to the wording of the proposed policy posted at the meeting.
Plainwell High School principal Jeremy Wright said the school has seen a “huge increase” in vaping. The tests would be a reason and an opportunity for students to say no to drugs and escape peer pressure to do so.
“No, I enjoy football too much. No, I value golf too much,” Wright said. “Whatever sport, whatever activity they do, it can give them a chance.”
Parents at Monday’s meeting expressed concern about the risks of a false positive result and questioned whether the tests would deter students from participating in sports or other extracurricular activities. Others wondered why only certain students would be given the proposed tests.
Superintendent Matthew Montange said in an interview with MLive that Plainwell is like other districts across the country, seeing an increase in the number of college students using vaping products that may contain nicotine or marijuana. Discussion began last year about how district officials could help tackle the problem, Montange said.
The proposed process at Plainwell tests urine for several types of drugs, including nicotine, THC, opioids and drugs like methamphetamine, the superintendent said.
According to the Plainwell Student Handbook, possession or use of alcohol, tobacco, vaping, and drugs violates the code of athletic training. The manual also states that students’ belongings may be searched whenever school officials suspect illegal or unauthorized materials. District policy also allows drug-sniffing dogs to search schools and parking lots.
Students who enroll in extracurricular activities already agree to follow the student handbook which prohibits drug use and possession.
“You consent to a higher standard,” Montange said.
Other school districts in the area, including Kalamazoo Public Schools and Portage Public Schools, have similar policies prohibiting students from being in possession of drugs, tobacco, or alcohol and allowing officials to school to search students and their property.
Parent Brian Hart said at the meeting that while he has “a lot of respect” for what the district was trying to do, he opposes the drug testing proposal. He takes issue with the policy because it involves minors and wondered why it was necessary since the district already has a policy prohibiting drug use by students.
The district would put in place a system to make sure drug testing is “truly random,” Montange said.
The high school has about 860 students, of which about 300 students participate in extracurricular activities, Montange said. Only 10% of them, or about thirty students, would be chosen at random for doping tests.
Rodd Leonard, a parent in the district, said he had no problem with student drug testing, but also wondered why the tests wouldn’t apply to all students.
“It’s a privilege to be a student here,” Leonard said. “I’m for it, but you have to do your whole student body.”
Robin Semm expressed concern that the tests would be truly fair between students. She also encouraged the board to implement the tests with all students. Semm cautioned the board against putting labels on students and assuming their future based on the decisions they make in high school.
“You have to be concerned about labeling these kids at an age where they’re supposed to experiment and learn from their mistakes,” Semm said.
Council President Amy Blades said she received many calls from parents concerned about vaping and drug use in high school, and was frequently asked about what the district was doing to help.
“That’s obviously a problem,” Blades said. “For me, it’s not putting your head in the sand.”
Wright said the students wouldn’t know when the tests might take place and wouldn’t want to take the risk and get caught with nicotine or other drugs in their system. Wright said the test costs $4.88 each and will be paid for out of the student activities fund.
Parents wondered how the tests would impact students’ willingness to participate in sports and whether popularity would influence the students tested or see the consequences.
Parent Penny Gorton asked how the legality of marijuana for adults might impact student access. She asked the board if a student would be penalized if exposed to drugs used legally by a parent.
The United States Supreme Court expanded the authority of public schools in June 2002 to test students for illegal drugs, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The court decided to allow random drug testing for all middle and high school students participating in competitive extracurricular activities.
the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU, says schools should not be allowed to drug test students. Students are less likely to start using drugs when they participate in after-school activities, such as extracurricular activities, the ACLU said. The organization encourages students to understand their rights and to voice their opposition to testing.
“Instead of putting up barriers like drug testing, schools should be engaging students in meaningful activities,” the ACLU article said.
Neither Kalamazoo Public Schools nor Portage Public Schools have random drug testing policies similar to the one offered in Plainwell.
Portage spokeswoman Michelle Karpinski said the high school manual says any student who appears to be under the influence of an illegal substance will be turned over to their parent or guardian and given a drug test. The handbook also says students under the age of 21 who staff believe have consumed alcohol may be required to take a police-administered breath test.
KPS spokeswoman Linda Mah said KPS officials do not perform drug tests on students.