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Charleroi Area eyes student drug tests

| Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, 7:26 a.m.

Superintendent Dr. Brad Ferko told the Charleroi Area School Board Tuesday he wants to explore random drug testing for students in extracurricular activities and those who apply for driving passes.

“We are seeing a tremendous increase in the amount of drug usage, not only in our community, but there are a number of students dealing with drug addiction and some of the problems associated with it,” Ferko said.

“We have a very good policy. Yet I'd like to take a look at it and bring this up to the board and the education committee.”

Ferko commended area efforts to inform the public about the dangers of illegal drug use and prescription drug abuse.

He noted “excellent” drug awareness programs in the region, including Charleroi and Monessen.

“Mr. Lucas was involved with those,” Ferko said of Solicitor Mike Lucas. “I'd just like you, the board, to think about it and consider it.

“I'm not asking for approval of anything tonight. I didn't bring anything to you. I'm just asking you to please allow us to go out and get some sample policies for you and to take a look at that.”

Lucas cautioned Ferko that challenges will follow any such plan.

“The issue is that there is a recognized right of privacy protected by the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as well as Article 1, Section 8, of the Pennsylvania Constitution,” Lucas said after the meeting.

During the meeting, he asked Ferko for aggregate data supporting the need for a policy.

“Absolutely, I can get more data,” Ferko responded. “The data I'm going to use is the data we're taking in from our student support program and some local arrests in the area. That won't be a problem.”

Having participated in prescription drug summits as a Washington County assistant district attorney, Lucas said he understand's Ferko's concern.

One such program will take place Wednesday at Monessen High School.

“There is a serious issue,” Lucas said. “If you're at one of those programs, you'll hear speakers saying it's an epidemic. Those using the prescription drugs, the majority falls between the ages of 12 and 25. It's a huge problem.

“When you look at the number of deaths in Washington County by overdose now compared to the 90s and in the 2000s, they're up so much.”

Lucas said there is a definite problem, adding that Ferko recognizes the situation.

“He'd like to do more than what we have been traditionally,” Lucas said of Ferko. “The problem is that you have to deal with the constitutional scrutiny.”

Lucas added that he has never seen a model policy on the subject. He is aware of districts that have attempted random drug testing policies.

“Unfortunately, the ones that were struck down are all I've been finding,” he said of such policies.

“What's the level of safety, and what is the threat to the school district? That's what the courts are going to look at. And, how does the district maintain the health, order, and safety of their students with these types of policies?”

Lucas said the language in such cases deals with the ability of school districts to articulate enough facts to justify perceived intrusions into the privacy of the students.

“We'll get the data and see if we have enough for the courts to say the district is justified in having that type of policy,” he added.

In other business, Ferko acknowledged district counselors and social workers in recognition of National Guidance Counselor Week.

Ferko commended the group for its work in recent weeks and months, especially after the school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.

“Not only with the Sandy Hook incident, but all of the incidents that have gone on in our community, these people do an excellent job in making sure the kids receive the counseling they need as well as the academic enrichment and the care they need in supporting the behavioral and educational program,” Ferko said.

In other business, the board:

• Approved the lease of two 72-passenger buses, two 36-passenger buses, a wheelchair van, and a mini-van. The leases, which would have buyouts included, will be based on the district director of transportation's recommendation.

• Approved the purchase of a Samsung SHT-3006 video door phone from Armory Locksmiths for $1,500.

• Approved the purchase of the following from the district's Pepsi Fund: white football uniforms ($4,950), strength and conditioning equipment ($1,450), pads for a blocking sled ($2,023), equipment for the middle school football program ($4,320), and additional, nonbudgeted items ($12,045).

• Accepted a $7,811 donation from CONSOL Energy.

• Recognized Howard Johnson, who was unable to attend the meeting, for being named Carnegie Science Center Middle School Teacher of the Year.

Jeremy Sellew is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jsellew@tribweb.com or 724-684-2667.

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