Random drug testing on students? Aurora parents asked to weigh in on proposal

AURORA, Ohio- While a committee works to fine tune a proposed random drug testing policy for Aurora schools, parents are being asked to share their thoughts in an online forum.

The committee, which includes students, teachers, administrators and others from Aurora schools and the community, has drafted a policy that would require students to submit to random drug testing from an independent vendor, or they would not be able to participate in athletics, or extracurricular activities and could be denied a parking pass.

Although it is still just a draft, the proposed policy drew well over 100 students and parents to the most recent school board meeting, many of whom voiced objections.

Gary James says he first learned about the proposed policy from his son.

"When I first heard about the policy it was my 17-year-old son who came to me and said, 'Dad, did you hear the school wants to do a drug testing policy? What do you think?' And my initial reaction was, 'What a great idea!' and he looks at me and says, 'Dad, have you read the policy?' I said 'no.' He said, 'How can you support the policy when you have no idea what's in it?'"

James is now directing other parents to the online forum about the proposed policy through a Facebook group called 'CARE - Concerned Aurora Residents for Education' which he created because of the proposal.

"Some people say, 'You know what? It's a great idea. We need something to try to combat drug abuse in the community.' I'm also hearing that the drug policy as it is written is very vague; it doesn't allow for religious freedom. I've heard people say that it doesn't allow for students with disabilities and that it's very broad-ranging and poorly written," said James.

He says some parents have expressed concern that the penalties for testing positive, which could include suspension from 25-percent of the activities of the student's club or athletic event, seem more punitive for a student who is involved in a yearlong activity rather than a seasonal sport, like football.

"The difference is for a football player a 25-percent suspension means that he can still practice with the team. He can still travel with the team, but he can't dress and he loses two-point-five games -- to a National Honor Society student who tests positive, they lose 25- percent of their "activity" which would be a nine-week suspension from the activity. I don't see that as being fair," said James.

The superintendent says the policy is not focused on punishment, but is meant to be a deterrent to students who might want to use drugs illegally.

"This is not about punishment, it's not about -- it's primarily a deterrent; if it isn't working as a deterrent, then it's about informing the parent so that they are aware their child is at least recreationally using drugs, and then it's about providing support, counseling -- whatever that child needs to make better decisions," said Pat Ciccantelli, superintendent.

But, he says the committee believes there should be consequences for a failed test.

"It's a draft, you know? Our committee did feel that consequences are a part of it being a deterrent -- if you are in an activity that you really enjoy, whether it's sports or a club activity and you get denied the opportunity to participate in that activity for a short period of time-- that probably is going to help be a deterrent," added Ciccantelli.

School Board President Gerald Kohanski tells FOX 8 that he is keeping an arm's length from the process, awaiting a final recommendation from the committee on which the board can vote.

He says if the community does not want the policy they won't do it.

"If parents don't want us to do that, so be it. I think it would be a mistake. Our police chief came to us and asked us to do this; he asked Pat to do this because he said we have a drug problem in Aurora that we need to address, and that's no secret," said Kohanski.

The policy would not be unique to Aurora.

Several other Northeast Ohio school districts already have such a policy.

For now, the Aurora superintendent says he is encouraging parents to contribute their thoughts to the district's forum insisting that their concerns will be woven into whatever comes from the process.

"We are looking at it, taking it seriously, looking at the things they would like to see done, so we are not in a hurry," said Ciccantelli.‚Äč