Parents applaud new drug tests

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Concerned parents of KHS students broke into applause on Monday night when the KISD Board of Trustees voted to institute a random drug testing policy at KHS. The issue of drug testing at the high school campus has been discussed at two board meetings preceding Monday’s meeting.

Monday’s meeting opened with public comments from parents of KISD students. The speakers discussed a variety of concerns they had about the state of the high school campus, including drug use, disciplinary issues, transfer students and low test scores.

Amy Donham, who had three sons attend KISD, spoke about the serious drug problem at the school district.

“After moving to Kilgore in 2013, my second oldest son started his sophomore year at KHS. He became friends with kids that I made sure came from good families but by the end of our son’s sophomore year, I realized that he and his sweet friends were doing drugs pretty heavily. In the course of attempting to separate our son from that lifestyle I became aware of two things: that his statement of ‘everybody does it’ was not an exaggeration and that Kilgore High School was doing nothing to discourage the majority of the student body from doing this,” Donham said.

Donham also said her third oldest son began his freshman year at KHS and asked to come home or change schools after the first semester because he was disturbed by the prolific drug use happening at the school.

Shannon Thompson, a KHS graduate whose children are third generation KISD students, read from a prepared statement explaining his concerns about the school.

“I am deeply concerned about the direction in which our school district is headed,” Thompson said. “While visiting with teachers on campus, I have seen an atmosphere of discouragement on our campuses. Why are teachers leaving? Do teachers feel supported in our schools?”

Thompson described a series of problems he had witnessed as a parent and while working as a substitute teacher at the high school, middle school and intermediate campuses, including an attitude among students who do not fear discipline from teachers and faculty.

“I’ve got pride in this district,” he said. “Most of these people out here do. This thing is going downhill quick. Somebody’s got to do something.”

Thompson brought a three-page typed letter to the meeting which he gave to the board members. The letter, along with a series of other concerns, pointed to an allegedly serious drug problem on the KHS campus.

“How often does the drug dog come and who where decides where the drug dog goes? Does it go over the whole campus when it comes? The kids all know who has or sells drugs. They can’t go to the bathroom because someone is smoking cigarettes or something else. They claim the administrators know but nothing is done,” the letter read.

KISD Superintendent Cara Cooke took a moment to respond to parents’ concerns about drugs on campus.

“We’ve been working on this awhile but tonight we’re bringing it as an action item to bring in drug testing next school year,” Cooke said. Her statement was received with a round of applause from the standing-room-only crowd.

The board described their two-pronged approach to tackling the problem of drugs on KISD campuses. Assistant superintendent Richard Nash described the creation and implementation of a program called KBAD, or “Kilgore Bulldogs Against Drugs.” The program will take the place of a former anti-drug student program called KYSSED, which stood for “Kilgore Youth Stand Superior to Eliminating Drugs.”

Nash introduced Whitney Pierce, coordinator at Partners in Prevention, and Rebecca Smith, a coalition coordinator for NextStep Solutions. The two worked with the School Health Advisory Committee to create a plan for the creation of KBAD.

“The real purpose of KBAD beyond KYSSED is to help us not just bring rewards but to educate students on the realities of drug and alcohol use and to provide accountability and support,” Nash said.

“Twenty years ago we had something called KYSSED,” Pierce said. “This was an awesome program. It was totally student-led. There was incentives out there, there was drug testing that was a part of the program. We thought, what could we use more that would get these students to where we need to be in the community? We need education. We want to revive this program because everyone loved it. The police department was involved, staff was involved, parents were involved, students were super involved but we need that education component.”

Smith explained the KBAD program is designed to educate students on social norms and refusal skills which can help them turn down offers from their peers to try drugs and alcohol.

They also explained Kilgore Police Department Chief Todd Hunter has offered his support for the program. This support will include making ID cards for students to identify them as part of the KBAD program and drug testing for student members. KPD will be funding the ID cards and drug tests.

KBAD student members who fail a drug test will receive additional counseling rather than punishment.

In addition to the KBAD program, the KISD board also voted on the implementation of a random drug testing plan at the KHS campus.

The plan would involve KISD partnering with an outside company to randomly drug test high school students who participate in extracurricular activities or who have a campus parking permit. Texas state law does not permit school districts to randomly test students other than those who participate in extracurricular activities or who have a campus parking permit.

Nash presented two options for the drug testing program. In the first option, students who failed one drug test would be suspended from extracurricular activities or parking privileges for 15 days and would also receive mandatory drug counseling after their parents were notified of the failed test. Under the second option, students would receive drug counseling and their parents would be notified but no suspension would be placed.

Several board members, including Joe Parker and president Reggie Henson, said the second option did not include sufficiently strict punishments.

“Option 2 looks like a powderpuff,” Parker said. “Option 1 looks like zero tolerance.”

Many members of the audience audibly agreed Option 2 was not strict enough and Option 1 was the preferred option.

Board member Dereck Borders made a motion to pass the drug testing policy with Option 1 and the motion was seconded by board member Alan Clark. The board unanimously passed the motion to a round of applause from the audience.

Many of the audience members left the meeting after the motion passed and several board members applauded the parents for voicing their concerns.

“Thank y’all for coming!” said several board members as the audience filed out of the room.

On Tuesday, Superintendent Cooke provided more information about the process of reinstating drug testing at KHS.

“I know we as an administrative team have talking about it all year. This went through our SHAC committee last fall. They had four to six meetings throughout the year and that committee brought it to the board,” Cooke said. She explained the board had to decide if they wanted to enforce the policy by partnering with a drug testing company or do away with the policy altogether. At last night’s board meeting, the trustees chose to move forward with the policy in time for the upcoming semester.

“The whole point was to try to get this done for this next school year,” Cooke said.

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