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School drug testing policy stays intact

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By The Staff

By DAMON LAWRENCE

rclawrence@bellsouth.net

The Roane County Board of Education didn’t budge on its policy of random drug testing for student athletes at Thursday night’s meeting.

If some of the comments made is any indication, it might take a lot more than threats from the American Civil Liberties Union to get the board to budge.

“I supported that policy, and I’m not going to change my mind on that policy until the law shows me it’s different,” board member Mike “Brillo” Miller said.

Harriman resident David Higgins expressed his dismay with the drug testing policy before the board in August.

Higgins said he didn’t appreciate his daughter being tested. Now the ACLU is threatening legal action on his behalf if the school board doesn’t change its policy.

The board scheduled a policy committee meeting for Oct. 6 to address the issue.

Board member Wade McCullough said the drug testing policy was drafted in concert with a U.S. Supreme Court case — Vernonia School District vs. Acton.

McCullough said the case allows random drug testing for student athletes. Board member Kim Nelson, a licensed attorney, said the case has never been overturned.

“It’s still good law,” Nelson said.

The ACLU contends the school board’s policy violates state law. In its letter to the school system, the ACLU cited an opinion issued by Tennessee Attorney General Robert E. Cooper Jr.

The July 2, 2007, opinion concerns random drug testing for students in voluntary extracurricular activities.

The question was could students in Tennessee who participate in voluntary extracurricular activities be subject to random drug testing in the absence of individualized reasonable suspicion? According to Cooper, the answer is no.

“The controlling statute, Tenn. Code Annotated 49-6-4213, allows drug testing of a student only when there are reasonable indications to the principal that the student may have used or may be under the influence of drugs,” Cooper’s opinion states.

“Random drug testing violates that statute.”

The attorney general, who is appointed by the Tennessee Supreme Court, is the highest-ranking lawyer in state government.

However, Miller brushed aside Cooper’s opinion on drug testing, saying all lawyers have opinions and Cooper’s is nothing special.

“Because they make that statement that they don’t believe something, that is their opinion,” Miller said. “The same as Ms. Nelson has an opinion or any lawyer has an opinion.”

The 10-member board of education is the only local body that has the power to change the policy.

McCullough is chairman of the policy committee. He said the procedure for changing a policy calls for the policy committee to make a recommendation to the full board.

Once that happens, McCullough said, the board has to pass it on first and second reading for any changes to go into effect.

The ACLU contends drug testing doesn’t serve as a deterrent to drug use. McCullough disagrees, and said he believes the policy has been beneficial for local students.

“This policy has been proven over its tenure of more than 10 years, that it has been a successful policy,” McCullough said.

“It is there to protect our student athletes. It is not there to infringe on anyone’s rights.”