By a 6-3 vote, the Board of Education decided on Monday evening to retain the district’s random drug testing policy.
After months of discussion and gathering input from the community, the majority of board members believed that while the program may be flawed and produced inconclusive results, the random testing was a valuable tool in the ongoing effort to combat adolescent drug use in the community.
The vote came after several members of the community spoke in favor of keeping the policy. One resident, Mary Fougere, a neighbor of the high school, made accusations that she has witnessed drug use and alleged drug deals near her home.
“This is life and death,” Fougere said, adding that the program gives the school district a chance to “intervene” with a student who may be using drugs. The policy also carries the message “that we’re taking drug use seriously.”
“It’s a great school system,” she said. “We can’t let these kids down.”
Another township resident, former Z100 morning personality John Bell who was known as the “Voice of Reason,” also voiced support for keeping the policy. Bell, who now devotes his time to bringing an anti-drug message to young people, likened the random drug testing to installing a red light camera at an intersection.
“Kids are afraid of being caught and paying for it,” he said.
“We should do whatever we can to do to deter them from the beginning,” he said.
Jake Cohen, the student representative to the board, said most students favor the drug testing, but said it should be an “all or nothing” policy. “More than 10 percent of the students should be tested,” he said.
The Hillsborough High student said that now the peer pressure to experiment with drugs is “greater than the fear of getting caught.”
Under the terms of the policy, only students who are involved in extracurricular activities or who have parking privileges are subject to the random drug testing (more than 90 percent of the high school enrollment). However, no more than 200 students have been tested annually since the program went into effect.
Earlier this year, the board’s Education Committee recommended that the policy be abolished. In July, Thuy Anh Le, chairwoman of the committee, said that the recommendation was made after reviewing the program’s results since it was implemented in the 2008-09 school year.
Le said the program showed “inconclusive reports” and the goal of an annual 5 percent reduction in drug use was not met.
However, at Monday’s meeting, Le said the committee had taken another vote on the issue and decided not to recommend ending the policy.
Le pointed to the results of a questionnaire posted on the district’s web site that garnered 747 responses. Of those responses, 64 percent were in favor of keeping the policy while 36 percent wanted the policy abolished.
Le also reported that a majority of respondents were in favor of more canine sniffs of school premises to find drugs.
Le said the committee decided to reverse its position “for lack of a better solution.”
Another alternative of students either opting in or out of the program could face legal challenges, Superintendent of Schools Jorden Schiff said.
Board member Deena Centofanti said she would like to see more students being tested and said parents see the program is a “safety net.” “We should keep the safety net in place,” she said.
Board member Jennifer Haley said most parents see the testing as a “positive program.”
“We’re here to respect the will of the community,” she said.
But board member Greg Gillette, who opposed the implementation of the program in 2008 and is still opposed to it, was emphatic in his opposition.
He said the program was a “feel-good” approach that is “wasting” the school district’s resources.
Gillette said the school district has taken four years “to realize what 90 percent of the high schools in New Jersey already know.”
“They know it doesn’t work and it’s not a deterrent,” he said.
Saying he still harbors doubts about the constitutionality of the program, Gillette said the random drug testing was like “putting my mom through a full patdown at Newark Airport.”
Board member Judith Haas reiterated her opposition to the program.
“Alcohol is a bigger problem,” she said. “This policy does not do anything about that.”
Haas also said that the program is only in effect during the school year and “random drug testing doesn’t do a damn thing for our kids during summertime.”
She urged the school district to increase its drug education and counseling; she also supported the return of the DARE anti-drug program at the elementary level. The program was cut because of budgetary restraints.
Voting to abolish the program were Gillette, Haas and Thomas Kinst. Voting to keep the program were Haley, Centofanti, Le, Dana Boguszewski, Christopher Pulsifer and Lorraine A. Soisson