Como-Pickton expands drug testing policy to all employees, more students
Faith Huffman | News-Telegram News Editor

Sept. 28, 2005 - Como-Pickton Consolidated Independent School District implemented a new policy put in place this year under which all district employees, and all students in grades seven through 12 involved in extracurricular activities or who park a vehicle on campus are randomly drug tested.

Also, the district has placed on temporary administrative leave with pay one employee under investigation by Sulphur Springs Police Department for "allegations of misconduct while off campus," according to Superintendent Bryan Neal.

The suspended employee, who was noted to oversee an extracurricular activity, was suspended one week ago. Neal cited personnel matters which prohibit him from further discussing the matter, and referred any additional inquiries to the SSPD.

The superintendent said that the school district is working closely with police investigators on the matter, and hopes for a quick resolution to the allegations.

Also, depending on the results of the recent drug tests, some district employees could soon find themselves without a job. 

In the past, only employees with commercial driver's license, mainly bus driver's only, were the only employees required to take mandatory drug tests, and students in extracurricular activities. Under the new policy, all employees were designated to serve in "safety sensitive" position and are subject to Department of Transportation Drug and Alcohol tests. The change came about because bus driver's aren't the only school personnel who transport or are responsible for child safety.

An outside company conducts the tests, taking two samples. If an employee's results are positive for illegal drugs or alcohol, the second sample is then tested as a precaution against a rare false positive test result. If the second sample, taken at the same time as the first, is positive, the employee meets with school administrators and the medication review officer and is advised of the result.

"If they fail, they don't work her anymore," Neal said. "We're not looking to accuse the casual drinker. ... It's pretty well fool proof to make sure there is no doubt. It's important to employee and student welfare."

An employee, in order to test positive for alcohol, would have to consume a large quantity of alcoholic beverages just prior to coming to school,. An employee would have to test in the 0.2 to 0.04 range or higher for alcohol in order to have a positive test result. That range should eliminate a positive test result for someone who consumed alcohol the night before, according to Neal.

The test is designed to rule out substances which are not illegal, including prescription or over-the-counter medications such as sinus and allergy medications which can be used in illicit substances such as methamphetamine, based on the substance's chemical structure. Thus, records of medical prescription histories are not necessary, according to Neal. The test is a standard TxDoT screening for illegal drugs and high alcohol content.

"It's not concerned with normal prescriptions people use," Neal said. "It looks at all [components]. ... We're not looking for diet pills or blood pressure medications, things like that. Like any other business, we require our employees to take drug tests. It does not require a medical history."

The superintendent would neither confirm nor deny whether or not any employees had been terminated as a result of the tests conducted a few weeks ago by the Abilene firm, citing privacy policies which restrict the release of personal information regarding district personnel. He said that based on the fact that the district has only about 130 employees, noting a percentage or number for positive or negative results would single out those employees, which district are not allowed to do.

"I will say that it is not a large problem with staff," Neal said. "Some of the results are back. Some are not."

All students participating in extracurricular activities from grade seven to 12 were drug tested as well all students parking vehicle on campus.

"The student policy is different," Neal said. "They have to be here."

If a student tests positive for any illegal substance, including alcohol, the student's parent will be contacted immediately to schedule a counseling session which would also include the principal. The student would continue to receive substance abuse counseling, and be restricted from participating in any extracurricular activity or parking a vehicle at the school, until the next random drug tests is conducted. 

If the student tests positive on a second drug screen, they would continue receiving counseling and be relieved of parking and extracurricular privileges for the remainder of the school year. 

In the event of third positive drug screen, the student would be restricted from driving to school or participating in extracurricular activities for the remainder of his or her high school career at Como-Pickton.

"In all the schools I've been at, we've never had a student go beyond two tests. This is to help the students if they have a problem."

School officials implemented the new policy after favorable response following discussions with school personnel and a sight based committee over the last few years regarding the growing drug epidemic affecting this community along with the rest of the nation. C-P staff worked with attorneys in drafting the new policy, implemented this school year, according to Neal.

"We want to create a safe environment for a children. It sends a message that we will not just test students. We will test staff and employees. We cannot allow any child to be at risk," Neal said.

"This is something we are proud of. We think its a positive step for this school, community and the war on drugs," he added.

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