The right to free speech

Hundreds of people have participated in conversations online regarding the possibility of random student drug testing at Smithville School District. Additionally, over 100 residents signed a petition and/or attended the pictured public forum related to the topic. Zero residents have come to a public comment period during the monthly Board of Education meetings, so far, to voice their opinion on RSDT.

Editor's Note: The timeline regarding when random student drug testing will go before Smithville's Board of Education for a vote has changed. Superintendent Todd Schuetz said a vendor and dollar amount will be decided at the June meeting. If a vendor is approved, the numbers will be plugged into a draft policy and be voted on in July with implementation expected December 2019.

The conversation about possible random student drug testing in the Smithville School District has proven to be controversial.

Many rumors have been spread, from claims of drug deals on campus, to characterizations that the district is promoting a military state within its walls. Aside from those arguments, there are two that have been made that really stand out to me.

The first concerns the Fourth Amendment. Is it fair, or constitutional, to search or seize another person, defined by the Supreme Court to include their bodily fluids, if there is no initial evidence of a crime?

Or, as a public entity tasked with providing education and equitable safety to all students in its district, should taxpayers support a district decision to implement random drug testing if the decision helps ensure that end; the safety of all children?

It’s an interesting debate. What is more interesting to me is the community voice. So many people are passionate in the Smithville community, passionate about kids, about rights and about how their tax dollars are spent.

I am concerned about our willingness as a population to battle everything out on social media but not utilize our freedom and rights to actually get involved.

In the words of NF, a modern lyricist, “I see a whole lot of talking in socials. But honestly, I don’t see nothing in public.”

This is all about the well-being and mental health of students, right? If you see something that makes you uncomfortable, say something. Under the First Amendment, we as Americans are recognized in our right to gather and share our thoughts and ideas.

To further that, most local governmental bodies across the Northland allow citizens to voice their thoughts and concerns during an open public comment period during their meetings, often held on weekday evenings. Press often come, too. Courier-Tribune reporters are frequent attendees of city and school board meetings.

The power of public voice is stronger than anything else in American government. I feel like people discredit it for any number of reasons, but based on public voice, the Smithville Area Fire Protection District recently underwent a state audit initiated by citizen petition. Clay County is undergoing a state audit following the same call to action from citizens.

Because of public voice, a substantial conversation about the possibility of random student drug testing in the Smithville School District is happening on social media and an online petition has gathered hundreds of signatures.

I ask the community to leave the computer and come to the table. Smithville’s July Board of Education meeting is expected to include the presentation of a draft policy for random student drug testing to the elected school board members.

Each person who comes for public comment during the Smithville school board meetings is granted five minutes to speak, and the entire comment period is generally limited to 20 minutes. I’m calling out to the parents, the teachers and the taxpayers who care about random student drug testing. I encourage you to come to the July meeting. I want to see 50, or more, district patrons prepared to offer public comment. That would catch some attention.

I also ask the board to consider more than 20 minutes if swarms do turn out, or maybe poll the room. When the community gets involved, it’s beautiful. Democracy works better. I would almost guarantee that the majority present would see their beliefs represented in the end.

Northwest Editor Sean Roberts can be reached at sean.roberts@mycouriertribune.com or 389-6606.​

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