23 Aug 2014
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Drug Testing Debate Draws Brentwood Support

School district officials, public safety officers, parents and students were among those who attended a forum on Monday to discuss the Brentwood School District's drug policy.

Drug Testing Debate Draws Brentwood Support

Any drug policy in Brentwood schools would include a mix of preventative education and punishment for drug abuse, said school district officials to a group of community leaders, parents and students on Monday night.

But whether the addition of a drug testing program is the best way to address the issue remains unknown.

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Nearly 60 people attended a forum in the to discuss the issue of drug abuse in Brentwood hallways, and to identify ways to battle any drug problems in the community. Many of the attendees sat on a panel comprised of public safety officers, school administrators, former students and a parent, among others.

When the discussion turned to the potential addition of a drug testing program, most attendees who spoke said they supported the idea.

Chris Jones, an '85 Brentwood alumnus and head coach of , said drugs are "definitely a problem."

"I don't think money or budgets should be an issue. Let's just get it solved," Jones said.

Brentwood junior Nick Featherston approached the podium in his letterman's jacket and also said drugs are a problem. Featherston said he supported a testing program.

Four Brentwood parents—Carl Dreyer, Steve Hampel, Marla Logan and John Sappington—all said they supported drug testing too.

Why drug testing, and why now?

In September, the Brentwood Board of Education the drug testing program. Katrina Harper introduced the measure to give students a way to reject peer pressure, she said.

At the time, school board members were divided on the issue. Regina Gahr wondered whether drugs were really a problem in the school. Keith Rabenberg said he wanted to see data that supported drug testing's effectiveness before approving a program.

Legally, the school district could only conduct random tests on students who participate in extracurricular activities, Superintendent Dr. Charles Penberthy said.

The program would probably cost between $8-10,000, Penberthy said.

Potential problems to testing

Not all research supports drug testing as an effective option, said Marilyn Bader of the , who offered her perspective as a panelist on Monday.

The research community is divided on the effectiveness, she said.

"If you go with drug testing, I think it's important to realize it's one tool in the toolbox," she said.

Earlier in the discussion, public safety officers and school officials agreed that they could probably identify most drug users in the district without a testing program. Some panelists proposed that the district could spend $10,000 on preventative measures instead of a testing program.

During the open comment period, Brentwood junior Evan Marshall suggested a drug testing program might encourage students to replace marijuana with increased alcohol consumption. Others asked whether some students might skip extracurriculars altogether to avoid testing.

A question on punishment

Most attendees agreed that a first offense shouldn't result in punishment. Instead, those students would be connected with the appropriate professionals and resources to deal with the problem.

But, after that, school board member Dan Williams said he wants to "draw a line in the sand." If someone continues to test positive, then they need to be kicked off their team, he said.

Sarah Stinson, a 2011 alumnus who sat on Monday's panel, said that kind of punishment would give those students more free time to do things they probably shouldn't be doing.

How bad is the problem?

At the beginning of the night, officers from the Brentwood police and fire departments talked about their experiences with drugs in the community.

Matt Stoverink, a paramedic with the , said he mostly sees a problem with people between the ages of 18 and 25. In 2011, the fire department responded to 18 cases of drug overdoses, Stoverink said, and half of those were related to heroin.

The number of overdose cases has risen each year too. In 2009, the department recorded 13 cases. There were 16 in 2010.

And while most public safety officers in Brentwood agree that heroin isn't a problem in Brentwood schools, they believe the use of other substances—namely marijuana and alcohol—are functioning as gateway drugs for the students.

"They're doing stuff in high school that leads to (heroin)," Stoverink said.

Steve Disbennett, chief of the , urged parents to watch for warning signs. If grades are declining and students are hanging out with the wrong crowd, that might mean the student is involved with drugs, Disbennett said.

"I'm a big believer that parents have to take an active role," Disbennett said.

School resource officer

Right now, Paul Clayton works as a part-time school resource officer in the Brentwood School District. In the past, Detective Jim McIntyre performed the duty full-time, but the position was trimmed to save costs.

Williams asked for the city and school district to work together to return that position to full-time.

Disbennett agreed that a full-time officer would be beneficial in building relationships with students.

"It's not about snitching. It's about being a part of those kids' lives," Disbennett said.

What's next?

No votes were taken during Monday's meeting and no final decisions have been made yet.

After the meeting, school board members said they were happy with the dialogue and that many different perspectives were represented.

They plan to continue the drug discussion during their regularly-scheduled Brentwood Board of Education meetings.

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