By Eileen Persike
It seems unlikely the School District of Rhinelander will be instituting a student drug testing program anytime soon. At a meeting of the Committee of the Whole June 13, the full board participated in a discussion that started in the Operations and Strategic Planning Committee in May. The focus of the meeting Monday night was a forum Rhinelander High School principal David Ditzler, Activities Director Brian Paulson and District Nurse Kerri Schmidt attended at Northland Pines High School in April. The three were asked by the board to attend the forum to gain information on what other schools in Wisconsin are doing regarding student drug testing.
Several schools in the state, such as Medford, Kimberly, Superior and Crivitz have differing random drug testing programs in place; in all cases, the pool of students selected include those involved in co-curricular activities and students with parking passes. Ditzler reiterated the position that he, Paulson and Schmidt believe that a plan of education would be the best way to proceed.
“We want to ensure that we have a solid foundation,” he said. “At the high school we are implementing ninth grade health again.”
Ditzler added the health curriculum at the high school level will be enriched with life skills and conversations about risky behavior and decision making skills. Strengthening the health curriculum in the lower grades is also taking place, starting out with basic concepts like “belonging.”
“Students either feel accepted at school or rejected and that’s a big indicator of whether or not you’re going to engage in risky behavior,” Director of Pupil Services Maggie Peterson said. “If we can prevent them from feeling that rejection and increase their sense of belonging, they’re going to do better academically and be less likely to engage in those behaviors in the first place.”
School board member Ann Munninghoff Eshelman called the idea of student drug testing “a pretty drastic solution” to a problem that hasn’t risen to the level of the board.
“The only other people I know [who are asked to provide a urine sample] are people on probation and parole, and we want to treat our student body like probation and parole?”
Both Ditzler and board member Mike Roberts said drug testing is something coaches are talking about, believing it would be a deterrent for some students who would “choose not to [use drugs] because they don’t want to ruin their eligibility.”
Calling it a “horrifically bad idea,” board member Dennis O’Brien suggested alcohol and nicotine are drugs used and accepted in society.
“Our culture teaches us that if you’re going to be an adult, you’re going to go have a drink with some people,” he said. “And all sorts of high school kids find ways to get alcohol so they can be part of the group. I think this is a futile conversation and we should just set this bad idea aside.”
In agreement, board member, Judy Conlin, pointed out that the district currently has a policy and procedure in place when a staff member suspects a student is using drugs or alcohol. Superintendent Kelli Jacobi said health education plans will be brought to the board as they are developed.