AMORY — The Amory School District has been awarded a federal grant of $97,436 for drug prevention efforts in the coming school year.
The grant was part of $5.8 million that the U.S. Department of Education awarded to 49 schools in 20 states.
According to Amory Superintendent of Education Jim Sappington, this money will allow the school district to begin random drug testing of students involved in any extracurricular activities in seventh through twelfth grades. All students who participate in any extracurricular activity that involves them in competition in any way with students from other schools could potentially be tested for drug use. This includes such activities as band, chorus, sports, vocational clubs, Envirothon team, math and science competitions and other such events.
Parents will be notified of the drug-testing program when the students sign up for extracurricular activities and their names will be entered into a pool of students which will be randomly selected for testing through a urine sample. A private company will perform the drug testing and provide results to the school. Drugs that will be tested for include but are not limited to the following: alcohol, amphetamines, metahamphetamine, barbituates, cocaine, marijuana, opiates, PCP, steroids.
If a student tests positive, Sappington said, “We’ll identify these kids’ drug use to their parents and remove them from extracurricular activities for 30 days and then test them again,” Sappington said. “The results will remain confidential.”
Sappington said the aim is to identify students early who are having problems with illegal substances and to get them help, then get on with the business of educating them. Because the drug testing program will be an entirely new process for the school district, Sappington said they will move slowly with it at first and make adjustments as they see the need.
Sappington told Amory School Board members at their June 9 meeting the grant will pay for one of the district’s full-time school nurse positions and will enable the drug testing program to get started in the fall.
In May 2007, Amory athletic director and head football coach Pat Byrd recommended the district begin random drug testing. The board adopted a drug-testing policy last summer, but had not implemented the screening program yet. Some area school districts, such as Itawamba and Tupelo, already have similar drug screening programs in effect.
“I’m proud of our athletic director (Pat Byrd) for coming forth and pushing for this. It’s not the easiest thing to do. A lot of schools just pretend the problem doesn’t exist.”
The school district’s grant writer, Carol Rogers, applied for the federal funds for the drug-testing program and now the program can be put into place, Sappington said.
The $97,000 the district was awarded is for the first year of the program and has money for start-up, including staff training and student pre-education about drug screening. It also includes the cost for screening students. The program also will include providing information to parents on resources for counseling of students who test positive for drug use. The school district will not be involved in any treatment of students who test positive.
“We’re not trying to expel kids or throw kids into the slammer,” Sappington said. “What we’re trying to do is get rid of a problem that we think a lot of our kids have.”
Sappington said the testing and results will be very confidential.
The district will receive two more years of federal funding for this program, bringing its total to about $290,000 over three years.
“It’s a positive approach to dealing with it,” Sappington said. “But it’s a ratger costly project.”
The random drug screening will be a continual process at the high school, occurring nearly every week targeting different randomly selected students.
Rogers said she felt the drug testing program was needed. She said a survey of middle school students here revealed some are using a wide range of drugs and illegal substances, even at higher than national levels for their age.
Since the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of school-based random student drug testing in 1995 and 2002, the demand for drug testing has outpaced the Department of Education’s grant award program.
In the past five years, student drug testing has gained participants. More than 4,000 schools nationwide have implemented a random student drug testing program to promote a healthy learning environment and to shield young people from addictive substances.
Other school districts in Mississippi besides Amory receiving drug prevention grants in this go-round include districts in Brandon, Macon and Lucedale.