OSAWATOMIE — USD 367 has pushed the pause button on hair follicle drug testing at the high school.
At the school board meeting Monday, Nov. 8, board member Kristal Powell made a motion to cease hair drug testing until a study committee can recommend if it is the method the district wants to use moving forward.
The board voted unanimously to cease the hair drug tests and form a committee made up of parents, two board members, teachers and students. The committee will gather research and community input before making a recommendation to the board of education.
Superintendent Justin Burchett and school board members Marsha Adams and Powell were charged with forming the committee. Burchett had suggested the committee during a discussion about drug testing, based on feedback he has received.
The hair testing method has drawn criticism from some community members who object to the district cutting their child’s hair.
Some parents attended the board meeting and voiced passionate opposition to the hair test.
Powell asked who administers the hair drug test.
“A school nurse will perform the actual test. There is not a set number of strands of hair to be cut,” Burchett said. “The testing protocol needs 50 milligrams of hair or more. There’s a scale involved to make sure enough hair is taken but not too much is taken.”
Burchett said one of the challenges of the test is dealing with the varying lengths of hair.
“A person with very short hair, multiple different spots on the head have to be cut to get the appropriate mass of hair that’s needed,” Burchett said.
He said an online training course that administrators and nurses take before the start of each school year recommends that the hair sample be taken from the back of the head, below the crown.
Burchett said some students who like to wear their hair in a ponytail have requested the hair sample be taken from the side of the head.
“Nurses are really good about working with the kids,” he said.
Burchett said the hair tests provide more precise information than urine drug tests.
Board President D.J. Needham also said urine tests can be manipulated.
“It’s a lot easier to manipulate the urinalysis,” Needham said. “There are ways to do that. It is very difficult to manipulate the hair.”
Board members did not voice opposition to the district’s drug testing policy and did not express an interest in suspending the drug testing program in the interim — just the hair follicle tests.
The district still has the option to conduct urine drug tests at the high school.
Board member Gordon Schrader said the reason for doing drug tests is not to catch somebody doing it.
“The reason for doing it is to prevent them from doing it,” he said. “It’s the idea that, ‘I want to play football so I’m not going to do it.’”
He said it also give parents knowledge if they are unaware of their students’ situation.
A positive test can affect a student’s eligibility to participate in an extracurricular activity. But Burchett said it was never meant to be punitive as far as the 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. school day goes.
Several board members also emphasized there is an educational component of the program that is designed to try and help a student who has tested positive.
The current goal is to test about 20 percent of the student body each school year, Burchett said.
He said results have varied in the five school years since the testing policy has been in place — from one year with zero positive tests to another year when almost 12 percent of the tests came back positive. The rest of years have ranged from 4 to 7 percent. Not enough samples have been collected — 18 thus far — to make an accurate projection about this year, he said.
Burchett said the school district is careful to examine why a student might have tested positive before assuming it was illicit drugs.
The superintendent gave the example of a student who barely met the threshold of a positive test for amphetamines. It was determined the student was on a low dose of the ADHD drug Ritalin, which is not an amphetamine but is known to cause false positive amphetamine tests, so the student’s positive drug test was discarded.
Burchett also sought to dispel rumors in the community that the district selects who they want to test. He said the drug testing company randomly selects student ID numbers and returns that list to the district. He said the students’ names are not attached to the ID numbers sent to the drug testing lab.
“Student names are never sent to the testing company in any way, shape or form,” Burchett said.
He said once the list of ID numbers comes back to the district in an Excel document, the numbers are matched up with the students to be tested.
“It is 100 percent unequivocally random,” Burchett said.