April 23, 2014

Elyria
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test

Vermilion OKs drug testing

VERMILION — The Vermilion school board approved its proposed drug-testing policy during a meeting Monday night.

The school board announced the proposal in May. It is expected to be implemented this school year.

“We’ve spent a significant amount of time to get to this conclusion,” board member Sid Jordan said.

Under the policy, students who participate in athletics, extracurricular activities or those purchasing parking passes would be required to consent to random, mandatory drug testing. Great Lakes Biomedical will implement the tests, which will cost between $20 and $54 per student per test and will be funded by the school board, except if a student tests positive and requires additional testing.

Board members have said the policy will not be punitive — students who test positive will not face disciplinary action, provided that they attend counseling. Test results only will be seen by a designated school official and will not be turned over to law enforcement, according to a draft of the policy.

Vermilion parent Tracy Lewis expressed concern Monday about the cost of counseling, recommending that the school board set up an agreement with a drug and alcohol counseling center. The board had said the counselor would be chosen and paid for by the student or parent.

The proposal began after Superintendent Phil Pempin said he and board members became aware of a drug problem in the school district. According to board President Tim Rini, three students from the class of 2010 have died in drug-related incidents. Pempin stressed, however, that the problem is not unique to Vermilion.

“It’s a concern. It’s a problem, but it’s not an exclusive problem to Vermilion,” he said.

Pempin said residents have expressed concern that highlighting a drug problem in the school will lower property values in Vermilion. Rini said bringing attention to the problem will be beneficial for the community.

“I think they’re going to start coming to Vermilion because we have a drug-free school,” he said.

Pempin suggested changing the policy to a strictly volunteer one at the start of the board meeting Monday, but board members quickly turned it down.

“I think if we do it that way, we’re going against what we set out to do in the first place,” board member Sherry Innes said. “I think we’ve done our homework.”

The school had come under fire by the American Civil Liberties Union after board members initially proposed testing all students. Christine Link, executive director of the Cleveland chapter of the ACLU, said testing all students would infringe on their Fourth Amendment rights.

Pempin said the school’s lawyer also advised against the idea as it would likely be challenged in court. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that schools have a right to drug test students involved in extracurricular activities, but the ACLU said the Supreme Court has not decided if testing all students would be legal.

The board did not decide on a budget for the proposal, estimating that the plan would cost between $10,000 and $25,000, depending on what supplemental drug education is included in the costs. Amy Hendricks, treasurer for Vermilion Schools, said the estimated cost for three rounds of testing each year for 10 percent of students would be less than $5,000.

“I’d need to think about it,” Pempin said about the cost. “I’m not ready to decide on that number yet.”

Board member Dale Dawson said although he has struggled with the issue, he believes drug testing is the only viable option, and the cost would be worth the benefit.

“We need to do something drastic … we have to save kids’ lives, and it’s gotta start today,” he said.

Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or cmiller@chroniclet.com.