Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Drug-Testing Proposal Prompts Heated Debate

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Drug-Testing Proposal Prompts Heated Debate

Article excerpt

DEMAREST -- The raw emotions of a school community debating how to safeguard its children from drug abuse were on display Thursday night as the Northern Valley Regional High School District unveiled its proposed random drug-testing policy.

The plan has created controversy for more than a year, as district officials touted it as an effective curb to drug use, and critics argued it doesn't work and would detrimentally affect students.

Officials addressed the legal support for the policy as well as the need for it, as many parents held signs to the contrary.

Superintendent Chris Nagy had to speak above heckles as critics complained that surveys on an overhead screen were difficult to see or irrelevant to the district.

No vote was taken as the gathering was purely informational. The school board is expected to vote on the policy on Jan. 27. A negative vote would put an end to the issue. If the board votes in favor, a second reading and vote will take place the following month. If approved, the policy will be implemented for the 2014-15 school year. Student information assemblies and visits to schools that have random drug testing would take place before implementation, Nagy said.

The policy would test students participating in extracurricular activities or who have parking privileges on campus by requiring selected students to undergo a urine test. A negative drug test could lead to suspension from extracurricular activities but not to suspension, expulsion from school or arrest. It would not appear on a student's school records. Students would be guided to professional aid.

Besides testing, the district is already offering educational programs, including an expanded drug-prevention curriculum with mandatory pre-prom programs, substance awareness and a parent academy, Nagy said. It also has hired staff members to address the issue, including a full-time nurse specializing in psychiatric nursing and an added psychologist.

The need for such programs is clear, officials say. Nagy noted that over the past five years, the district reported more suspicion- based positive tests than most Bergen County districts. He showed statistics and quotations from districts that implemented random testing successfully. Some parents grumbled that Northern Valley is very different than districts such as Kinnelon and Hunterdon, which chose to use the program.

Police were among the presenters.

Lt. Tom Dombroski, director of the Bergen County Narcotics Squad, said drug use in the county is epidemic, especially in affluent areas. "You can get a bag of heroin in Paterson for $3 a bag," and most parents are unaware their children are addicts until they overdose or are arrested, he said.

Old Tappan police Detective Joe Tracey, who deals with local teens, explained the most common drugs and their use, including marijuana, alcohol, cocaine and OxyContin. …

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