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Erika Stiles, a parent who has actively opposed the possibility of random student drug testing in the Smithville School District, sits in the audience after voicing her opinion about the issue at the Oct. 16 school board meeting. Across the aisle is Ruth Dickinson, who had a similar stance. Both opinions were echoed in final comments by board members as they decided against implementing such testing.

SMITHVILLE — The debate was fierce between local parents opposed to and in favor of random student drug testing. At the end of what has been over a year-long debate, the school board agreed unanimously, with Greg Chastain absent, that it does not have a place in Smithville schools.

During their meeting Wednesday, Oct. 16, board members learned that 50% of district patrons, according to recent Excellence K12 survey results, are in favor of the testing, while the other half of the population is opposed (40%) or undecided (10%).

Three hundred people were polled.

“I think moving forward with a policy that half our population is opposed to is cutting off our nose to spite our face,” board member Denney Fales said, adding that if the community can’t agree, the topic isn’t worth pursuing.

Locals also joined the conversation to relay information in scholarly journals and evidence supporting ethical opposition to such testing in schools.

“Over a school year students are not only identified as having problems, they are diagnostically labeled,” opposition leader Erika Stiles said. “Labels such as ADHD, autistic, depressed, learning disabled and even obese. Sometimes the process leads to appropriate special assistance, but according to Dr. William Ryan, a sociologist, writer, researcher and consultant in the fields of mental health, community planning and social problems, sometimes they contribute to blaming the victim.”

Stiles argued that random drug testing can cause trauma to young adults and asked the board members to search their memories for times they were called out and traumatized.

“I venture to guess you have never forgotten those moments and the people involved,” Stiles said. “(If passed), you will be those people for your students, our children. It will be your faces they remember. It will be you they associate with negativity, distress and probably anger.”

High school Principal Tracy Platt, who had voiced disagreement at the September meeting, said creating a program that would ultimately punish students who tested negative would fly in the face of the district effort to have restorative practices. With supporters opposed to the idea that a student could test positive for illegal drug use without any repercussions, movement on the proposed policy began to deflate.

Ruth Dickinson, a district resident, said the Supreme Court recognized random student drug testing as a violation of the 4th Amendment and justices were split in their vote. She said this practice has only been upheld after districts were able to prove a serious drug problem.

“Drug use has gone down in Smithville,” board member Ian Saxton said. “I think we have some great programs already and we should put our focus there.”

Board member Wade Kiefer noted that there is inconclusive data regarding effective policies for screening for drug use. He said in his industry, workers are subject to drug testing to be part of the union and do drugs anyway.

“It’s too easy to fake,” Kiefer said.

Among other reasons board members shared for not adopting random student drug testing was that preparing students for the real world means teaching them how to say “no” on their own.

Board President Russel Fries believes there would no long-lasting impact if random student drug testing were implemented.

“There is enough division in our society already,” Fries said. “This would be a stake in the heart. ... Our community is not strongly for it. We have to be responsive to that.”

In an explanation by Fries, the board agreed not to call a vote for the issue, stating that they generally move questions in the positive and that not voting was the same as voting no.

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

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