Norman, OK public school board approves random drug testing of students

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Norman, OK - July 17, 2018 -  Norman Public School District board members unanimously approved a policy for random drug testing of students on Monday. Now, students who test positive for drugs must undergo mandatory counseling from a certified drug counselor at the family’s expense.

According to the policy approved, Norman students who test positive for drugs will also be subject to follow up screenings. The policy adopted by the school board at the July 16, 2018 meeting also mandates that students with repeat offenses will be prohibited from participating in extracurricular activities. The mandatory counseling and follow up drug tests increase in cost and frequency with each recurring violation.

The substances to be screened for were not disclosed at the July 16 meeting. No copies of the written policies or the staff presentations were made available to members of the public during the course of the meeting. Public comments and questions were not heard on the actual agenda item following an informational presentation from a school district staff member. The contract for services with Compliance Resource Group--the company conducting the random drug tests--carries a $35,000 per year price tag. Copies of the school district’s agreement with Compliance Resource Group were not made available at the meeting.

Norman School District staff member Justin Milner made a presentation and fielded questions from the board. Members of the public were not allowed to ask questions, and public comments were restricted to the beginning of the meeting, several items prior to the board’s vote. Millner stated the policy was “not punitive” and was intended as a deterrent to drug use that would assist in connecting students and families with treatment and resources. Additionally, the policy approved Monday night contains a provision that lets parents opt in to mandatory drug tests separate from the randomized testing.

The public comments prior to the board’s unanimous approval of the drug testing policy indicated a mix of support and opposition within the community. The three members of the public who spoke in favor of the policy indicated an affiliation with a group called “Parents Helping Parents,” a support group for parents of children who have used drugs.

Opponents of the measure contend that restricting participation in extracurricular activities is, in fact, highly punitive and qualifies as a form of exclusionary discipline. The new policy will isolate students from their peers and increase stigmas associated with drug use. Although NPS claims the documentation of drug test results will not be shared with law enforcement, opponents from the group Norman Citizens for Racial justice say it contributes to the criminalization of substance abuse which already disproportionately targets minority communities.

Other opponents not allowed to speak during the meeting voiced concerns over how the policy will discourage school attendance, and negatively impact less privileged members of the community, including low-income families and Communities of Color. Since the mandatory counseling must be conducted by licensed professionals, the sessions could be costly and unaffordable to many.

In order to be heard during the public comments section of the July 16 meeting, attendees were required to submit requests to speak prior to the meeting. Several members of the public arrived subsequent to the official convening of the meeting and were told they would not be allowed to speak.

The Oklahoma Open Meetings Act, as well as Attorney General opinions discourage public bodies from limiting public input with complicated procedures. Public bodies found to be in violation of the Open Meetings Act may be subject to criminal penalties. If violations of the Open Meetings Act are proven, decisions made at the meeting may be nullified.

Copyright The Gayly – July 17, 2018 @ 11:20 a.m. CDT.