Nebraska District Moves Forward with Random Drug Testing of 7th-12th Graders

First tests planned for next month; policy budgeted for up to $25,000 through May, though the cost will likely fall.

This is a photo of a Crete Public Schools Board of Education meeting.
The Crete Public Schools Board of Education meets on Aug. 14, 2023, in Crete, Nebraska. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

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CRETE, Nebraska — School board officials in Crete decided to follow through with a random drug testing policy among students despite nearly a dozen speakers Monday night objecting to the policy.

This is a photo of Crete Public Schools Board of Education President Justin Kuntz.
Crete Public Schools Board of Education President Justin Kuntz presides over a meeting on Monday, Aug. 14, 2023, in Crete, Neb. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

Crete school board president Justin Kuntz on Monday night described what he viewed as the importance of the policy after seeing an increase in substance use in the school community.

The policy, approved unanimously last month with other consent agenda items, would require students in seventh through 12th grades who participate in extracurricular, nongraded activities, as well as those who have obtained school parking lot passes, to be entered into a “pool” for testing.

Once or twice each month, a selection of students will be randomly selected for urine testing, which the policy describes as similar to tests for those who hold a commercial driver’s license. Each test will cost the school district $36 and includes screening for alcohol, amphetamines, barbiturates, cocaine, ecstasy, marijuana, nicotine and opiates.

“We believe that this is in the best interest of our students at this time to provide them a safe, positive learning environment,” Kuntz said.

Students wishing to be removed from the testing pool must sign a “drop” form, which includes a 15-day reconsideration window. Doing so bars the student from participating in any extracurricular activities or campus parking for 12 months.

By the end of the 2023-24 school year, officials intend to test 20% of the eligible student population.

Data not immediately available

Data on increases in substance use, which Kuntz said led to the policy, have not been made available, and some Crete Public Schools parents have questioned why the school handbook — which outlines consequences for substance use and is signed by parents and students — is no longer effective.

The district, which is in Saline County, southwest of Lincoln, serves more than 2,000 students in pre-K through 12th grade.

The district has budgeted $25,000 to pay for the drug testing in the policy’s first year and estimates paying $16,200 during the 2023-24 school year to cover 450 tests, which are being contracted through Safe Sport Testing Service. The number of tests will likely fluctuate depending on how many students are required to reach the 20% requirement.

Parents such as Michaela Conway questioned when the problems began occurring, why only students participating in activities are being tested and whether the budgeted funds could have instead been directed to education or required counseling, rather than a “punitive, gotcha approach.”

“Lack of transparency and proactive communication has created an environment of distrust,” Conway told the board Monday. “The best way to rectify that now is open, direct dialogue and a thorough accounting of how we got here and where we will go next.”

Crete Superintendent Joshua McDowell told the Nebraska Examiner after the meeting that “we’ll see” on whether the board will release the data that led to the policy. He said discussions were needed on whether and how to do so.

‘We need data’

Jess Parker of Lincoln said parents of Crete students reached out to her about the policy, and she noted to the board that immediately requiring substance use counseling for students who test positive to return more quickly to participation ignores the reality of mental health services.

Many counselors statewide have “tremendous” counseling waitlists across the state, and waits can be longer and services harder to obtain for Medicaid patients.

Parker has filed a public records request seeking additional context involving the policy’s creation.

A majority of Crete students are of Hispanic descent, and Conway questioned why a frequently asked questions website for the policy was not translated into Spanish, although Parker said district documents are often provided in both English and Spanish on handouts.

This is a photo of researcher and psychologist Maggie Thompson.
Maggie Thompson, a researcher and psychologist from Lincoln, testified before the Crete Public Schools Board of Education on Monday, Aug. 14, 2023, in Crete, Neb. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

Maggie Thompson of Lincoln, a psychologist and researcher, questioned how officials intend to prevent implicit and explicit biases in randomized testing and why board members, teachers, staff and coaches won’t be tested if the purpose is a “drug-free environment” for students.

“We need data,” Thompson told the Examiner. “We need evidence-informed strategies and interventions, and I heard nothing in there about any data or any evidence that actually would make this a good call.”

‘You now have my attention’

Thompson also described the policy as unpopular and a culture war extension. One speaker, Sara Freeouf, cited substance use as a spiritual problem.

“You can make all the rules and policies you want to, but if this wokeness and this craziness that we see happiness, kids requiring a litter pan because they define themselves as a cat…. It’s coming this direction, folks, and you better get braced,” Freeouf said.

The rumor of litter boxes being found in school bathrooms has been repeatedly debunked. One Nebraska state senator apologized in the spring of 2022 hours after he made a claim about litter boxes in schools during a debate on the floor of the Legislature.

Seth Bell, a Crete parent, told the board that while he felt the parental pushback would “fall on deaf ears,” he wanted board members to know parents are watching and will expect relevant data points at monthly board meetings indefinitely.

“Make no mistake,” Bell told the board. “You now have my attention and the attention of this community.”

Nebraska Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nebraska Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Cate Folsom for questions: info@nebraskaexaminer.com. Follow Nebraska Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

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