Some fifth- and sixth-graders would be randomly drug-tested, beginning with the 2017-18 school year, under a proposal approved by the Casey County Board of Education.
The proposal, first reported in the Casey County News, would apply to fifth- and sixth-graders participating in after-school activities, including athletics, at the middle school level, said Cathy Williams, who coordinates a Drug Free Communities Grant for the school district.
The proposal will be submitted to the Kentucky School Boards Association for review of the wording, and there would be two more readings of the proposal at the January and February Casey County Board of Education meetings.
“We’re trying to figure out how to prevent some of the issues we have in our community with drug abuse,” said Casey County school board member Marilyn Coffey.
Eric Hughes is pastor of Liberty United Methodist Church and chairman of the faith-based committee for the Casey County Agency for Substance Abuse Policy. Hughes said he made the proposal to the Casey school board at its December meeting. Currently, Casey County school officials drug test high school students only on a random basis. The policy change would extend those random tests to fifth- through eighth-graders who participate in extracurricular activities, Eric Hughes said.
Hughes told the Herald-Leader that middle school includes seventh and eighth grade in Casey County, but fifth- and sixth-graders at elementary schools can participate in activities at middle schools. In 2015-16, Hughes said, about 60 fifth- and sixth-graders played middle school sports and participated in extracurricular activities.
Hughes said the proposal was to randomly drug test 10 fifth- and sixth-grade students three times per year, at the same time teachers were drug tested.
“In the last two years, we’ve had a number of overdoses taking place with middle school students,” said Eric Hughes.
Brad Hughes, a spokesman for the Kentucky School Boards Association, said there are a handful of districts in the state that drug-test middle school students who participate in extracurricular activities, but the association did not have records on whether school districts performed drug tests of fifth-graders.
According to a 2014 survey of Casey County students published in the Casey County News, 22 percent of sixth-graders and 34 percent of eighth-graders believed people had little or no risk of harming themselves if they smoked marijuana once or twice a week.
Nine percent of eighth-graders said they first used marijuana under the age of 12. The 2014 survey reported 1 percent of sixth-graders and 11 percent of eighth-graders said they used marijuana at least once during the past 12 months, Eric Hughes said.
The drug tests are paid for with a Casey County Drug Free Communities grant that costs more than $6,000 each year in 2016-17 and 2017-18, said Williams, who also works with the Casey County Agency for Substance Abuse Policy.
Students would have to enroll in a drug prevention and counseling program the first time they violated the school district’s drug policies under the proposal.
“The sooner that we can talk to students ... the possibility is better that we can have a greater effect on curbing drug use,” said Eric Hughes.