BERNARDS TOWNSHIP, NJ - A random drug testing program that allows parents to "opt in" to have their students in the middle school and at Ridge High School tested at random for drug use and substance abuse has been approved by the Bernards Township Board of Education. However, Schools Superintendent Nick Markarian said the program will take some time for school administrators to put into place, and it isn't set to begin this September.
"It will take some time to set up," Markarian said after the policy for students in grades 6 to 12 received unanimous school board approval in July. First reading of the policy had taken place about a month earlier, and the policy now has received final approval.
But with many details still to be worked out, it "may be some months before can actually implement the policy," Markarian said in an email after the board's approval.
"It's a start," said board member Michael Byrne, who in the past has said that the program should not be voluntary, but should be a mandatory program. Other school districts require students to become part of the random drug testing pool if they sign up for sports or other after-school activities, or if they obtain parking permits.
The policy is posted online on the Bernards Township school website. The second part of the policy, also posted online, lets parents sign up to have their children included in the random drug testing pool, or instead decide not to have their students be tested at random. The school district already can request a student be tested if drug or substance abuse is suspected.
Testing to look for marijuana, cocaine, oxycodone use and more
Students' urine samples would be tested for substances that may include marijuana, amphetamines, barbituates, benzodiazepines, cocaine, MDMA, methadone, methamphetamines, opiates, oxycodone, phencyclidine (PCP), propoxyphene and any other substance defined as a "controlled substance" under New Jersey or federal law.
The policy explains that a child whose parent or guardian has given consent may be chosen at random and asked to submit a urine sample for testing until the time he or she is withdrawn from the program, or is no longer a student in Bernards Township schools. The policy also allows a parent to withdraw their child even after initial consent for approval.
"Furthermore, I understand that multiple confirmed positive random drug tests may result in a loss of school privileges," the policy states. Each school year, the school district intends to test at least 10 percent of sixth through eighth graders at the William Annin Middle School, and 20 percent of students in grades 9 to 12 at the high school.
The program imposes increasingly consequences for multiple positive tests, but all require a parent to be notified as the first step. Students may appeal a positive test, and acquire their own test at a laboratory approved by the school district.
The consequences outlined are somewhat different for grades 6 to 8, but all students who test positive in any grade would be required to be examined by a physician, undergo counseling in school, and submit a negative, or clean, test within 30 days. The school district would not be responsible for follow-up testing and physician visits.
After a third positive test, a student would be suspended from athletic or other extracurricular activites for two weeks, or required to perform five Saturdays of community service, as well as being referred for a substance abuse evaluation. The other steps, such as being required to submit a clean test within 30 days, also would remain in place, the policy states.
Keeping parents informed is an important part of the goal, Byrne said. Many parents are unaware their students are using drugs or alcohol, he said.
Random drug testing -- which started years ago in school districts such as Hunterdon Central High School in Hunterdon County -- has been on the table for many years at Bernards Township school board meetings. Former Superintendent Valerie Goger endorsed a program.
Byrne said he has been approached by one mother who said that when mandatory drug testing at the high school was proposed about five years ago, her son had stopped using drugs. When that proposal was scrapped, the mother said her child began using drugs again -- with tragic consequences, Byrne said. Community concern also increased about drug use after two former students died of drug overdoses last year, he said.
Another measure under discussion is whether to use breathalyzer tests at athletic events, he said.