More than 75 people were on hand Feb. 28 after the Illinois Valley Central District 321 school board meeting to hear comments and concerns about the proposed drug testing policy at IVC High School.

More than 75 people were on hand Feb. 28 after the Illinois Valley Central District 321 school board meeting to hear comments and concerns about the proposed drug testing policy at IVC High School.

Of the 75, about two dozen spoke out. Most voiced statements either for or against the policy, but a few parents also just had questions for the board.

“I think the forum went very well,” Superintendent Dr. Nick Polyak said. “The board appreciated hearing from the community. While the opinions varied, the tone was very civil and all involved wanted what is best for our students.”

Polyak opened the forum with a short PowerPoint highlighting Supreme Court cases and research available about drug testing policies before detailing how IVC’s policy is unique from most policies out there by testing hair.

The policy had its first reading during the board meeting before the forum.

Under the policy, 25 random students in either school-sponsored extra-curricular activity programs or who receive a parking permit will be tested per month.

If the student tests positive, parents will be notified and the student will complete a drug education program provided by the school. The student will then have a follow-up screening 90 days later.

The punishment for a student who tests positive will be suspension for a fourth of the season for a first offense, or loss of parking privileges for nine weeks.

“It is very hard to tell ahead of time how any board member is going to vote on an issue and it is my practice not to guess,” board President Mike Denzer said. “But, on balance, what I’ve been hearing from the community at board meetings is in support of this policy.”
If the board proceeds with the policy, it could have its second reading and be voted on during the March 13 board meeting.

Against the policy
The first speaker of the night, Pete McClure, said the policy forfeits a student’s Fourth Amendment right, a sentiment many parents against the policy shared throughout the night.

“Rights can’t be swept under the rug,” parent Lisa Offutt said.
McClure added that he thought the board was overstepping its bounds and “trampling on their rights as parents.”

Rosa McDonald then presented three studies that were reportedly promoting drug policies. However, she said that all three did not give definite reasons of benefit, and added that one said there was no change in student opinions in trying drugs.

The next to speak against it, Valerie Reny, said that prescriptions could cause false positives, and added that showing prescriptions would be a violation of HIPAA.

However, Polyak confirmed with the district’s attorney that there are no HIPAA concerns in regards to prescription medicine.

“Regarding Mrs. Reny’s concerns, all of our policy language has been approved through our district attorney,” he said. “I’m not concerned with the false positive issue because the testing companies re-test four times before they report a positive to us.”

Other parents then spoke up about spending money that could be used for education and about confidentiality concerns.

“I believe that people’s confidentiality concerns are about the fact that if a student is suspended from a sport or club, then people will know they failed a drug test,” Polyak said. “In reality, the same situation exists right now with the activity code. When a student misses time for any violation, the same could be said. I am confident that our staff members will be very careful with confidentiality, but we cannot control what the students tell their friends.”

Offutt, who spoke later in the meeting, added that the policy sets the bar low by treating students guilty until proven innocent.

Finally, her husband, Peter Offutt, said that the policy is objectionable because it is a search without reason.

Other points raised by community members were if the policy would be monitored each year, and if it would possibly be discontinued if students started dropping extra-curricular activities due to the policy.

“We will monitor our participation rates in the district to make sure that the presence of this policy isn’t negatively affecting our programs,” Polyak said. “The research asserts that this will not happen, but we want to monitor that. As with any practice in the district, we would evaluate how the program has been going and whether or not any changes in practice are necessary.”

For the policy
Meanwhile, about half of the speakers commended the board for taking the steps to make a policy for drug testing.
Richard Grady, the first speaker for the policy, said he had two children who were tested at Peoria Notre Dame, with a third child currently in the IVC school system.

He said that the school used two strands of hair that were barely noticeable.

“I was glad to have my kids tested,” Grady said. “None of them tested positive, but as a parent I’d want to nip it in the bud rather than find out down the line.”

Jim Fennell then added that he supported the board “in the venture of what they’re doing” and implored them to pass the policy.

Al Audo, a former IVC High School freshman football coach, then said that there were students on the team that were under the influence that he never knew at the time, and that he did not want a repeat of what happened to Rashidi
Wheeler, a football player at Northwestern University who died during practice. It was later discovered that he had ephedrine in his system.

“I think what you’re trying to do is admirable,” Audo said.

Brad and Celeste Cecil both spoke for the policy. Brad said that the policy gives parents one more opportunity to find a problem, while Celeste added that one of her children got into drugs at IVC, but the coaches never knew about it, so the policy would have been a way to catch the problem before it was too late.

Mike Buckley, who has been on the fire department for 28 years, said that a lot of parents have blinders on when it comes to drugs and was in support of the policy.

He also said that he had seen a lot more overdoses of children on calls taken in recent years.

Brent Cranford, also in support of the policy, gave both a personal and professional reason for backing it.

While he always believed in zero-tolerance personally, he gave a small insight to what he saw as a former police officer in Chillicothe.

“Chilli has a drug problem,” he said.

His wife, Brook Cranford, added that if the $10,000 used for the policy helps save one life, it is $10,000 that is worth it.

Emma Hoerr, a senior at IVC and a member of the girls basketball team, said that she knows there is a drug problem in the school.

She also said that students sign the policy and they should have to step up and follow through with it.

Policy questions
While many comments were for or against the policy, a few parents also had questions they wanted answered.

Robin Gray asked what would happen if a parent did not consent to the policy, to which Polyak said it would be the same as not signing the activity code.

She then asked if they were testing the faculty the same way, which cannot be done due to union laws.

The question of how students are selected was also raised by a community member. Students will be assigned an ID number that is given to the company in charge of testing. The company will then randomly select a number of students that IVC gives a month to be tested.

Dave King then asked if a student was only in one sport, would the policy be enforced during just that sport or year-round, to which the board responded it would be enforced all year.