MOUNT ZION – This fall, students wanting to participate in extracurricular activities at Mount Zion High School will have to consent to the district's recently adopted random drug testing policy.
The Mount Zion school board approved the policy May 4, applying to all students who participate in sports, clubs, driving and parking at the school. The policy also extends to school dances, banquets, the graduation ceremony and any activity organized and sponsored by the district.
High school Principal Kraig Garber said a large committee of school board members, administrators, teachers, parents and students meet on an annual basis to discuss changes to the district handbook, and for the first time, a parent proposed implementing a random drug testing policy this year.
“Students' health and well-being is our No. 1 priority, and we want to promote good decision-making,” Garber said. “The idea is not to catch kids; the idea is to deter them and give them a reason to say no to those temptations.”
All students wishing to participate in activities that fall under the policy and their parents or legal guardians will be required to sign a consent form by Sept. 1 or within 10 days of enrollment, whichever is later.
A random selection of students would be subject to urinalysis tests that would detect prohibited substances including alcohol, marijuana, hallucinogenic drugs, barbiturates and amphetamines. The testing would be performed at the school by clinical specialists from a district-approved laboratory.
Assistant Principal Mike Mose said the cost will be between $25 and $50 per test, depending on what lab the district approves this summer. He said they do not anticipate increasing fees to fund the testing, and the total cost to the district will be known later this summer after factoring in how many of the some 740 students will be randomly tested.
The district will finance all initial tests, but further testing must be paid for by students and their parents or legal guardians, he said.
For a student's first offense, the consequence would be ineligibility for all extracurricular activities for three months. After three months, the student's participation could be reinstated if he or she provides the school with documentation of a negative test result from a district-approved facility performed at the student's expense.
The student would also have to provide proof of completing a drug and alcohol assessment and awareness program.
The second offense would result in 12 months of ineligibility, and the third would ban the student from extracurricular activities for the remainder of the student's time at the school.
On May 14, Garber conducted a school assembly with all high school students and those from the Mount Zion Junior High School who will be incoming freshmen to discuss the policy.
After hearing about the policy from her daughter, who will be a junior in the fall, Jill Phillips was disappointed that parents were not consulted prior to the decision to implement random drug tests and that they have yet to be contacted by the district.
“This isn't just a change in the dress code; this has a lot of implications,” she said. “I didn't think there was a pervasive drug problem, and parents should have been notified that there was a problem so we could have had an open discussion.”
She said the money the district will have to spend to finance the tests could take away from better options, such as expanding drug and alcohol awareness programming. She added that the policy would detract from the parents' responsibility to deal with a child's drug or alcohol problem.
“I don't think this will be a deterrent,” she said. “I think this will give a false sense of security for parents when we are the ones who are on the front lines of this. This is our responsibility.”
In March, the Decatur School District approved a random drug-testing policy that applies to any nonacademic extracurricular activities. The policy would apply to those in privileged, nonacademic activities such as Chess Club but would not affect those participating in activities such as the graduation ceremony, said Todd Covault, the district's chief operational officer.
Garber said the Mount Zion district researched policies from several schools, including Warrensburg-Latham High School, Metamora Township High School near Peoria and Rochelle Township High School, which is about 25 miles south of Rockford.