As early as this fall, Summit County sixth-graders could participate in a voluntary incentive program aimed to keep them from using drugs.
The idea of randomly drug-testing kids prompted lively discussion at the Summit School District Board of Education meeting Tuesday, June 11.
“There was an uneasiness for me to say drug testing,” said Summit Middle School principal Joel Rivera. “What does that look like for an 11-year-old?”
Rivera and Dan Elerby, of Summit County’s Healthy Futures Initiative, explained to the board that sixth-graders would join the Choice Pass program by first passing a drug test and then signing a pledge to remain drug and alcohol free.
Five percent of the students in the program would be randomly drug tested with mouth swabs each month. If students fail a drug test, certain actions would then be taken that were agreed upon by the kids and their families.
“The purpose isn’t to bust somebody,” Rivera said. “It’s to have positive rewards for kids that make the right choices.”
Students in the program could take advantage of discounts and specials offered by participating businesses. Rivera said he imagined some of the recreation centers, ski resorts and outlet mall stores might get involved. He hopes the program would interest all the kids in the county.
He emphasized that he wanted to set up times to talk to more parents before figuring out how to put the program in motion.
Eventually the program could be expanded to other grades.
Elerby said the idea already has student support.
“Kids said, ‘I’ll sign up right now. Where do I sign up?’” he said.
“They were just really excited about this,” Rivera added. “It’s very proactive. I don’t want to be reactive about this.”
All four of the seven board members present at the meeting encouraged more conversations with families.
“It’s most important probably to have buy-in from the community, from parents,” said board President Margaret Carlson. She said she expects a full range of reactions, “good, bad and in between.”
Board member J Kent McHose said, “The word ‘drug test’ ... conjures up all sorts of pictures.”
Rivera emphasized the drug tests would be mouth swabs and the program would be optional.
“Just like we don’t make everybody play basketball,” he said, “you can do it if you want to, and you have to keep your grades up.”
Board member Marilyn Taylor said some parents would probably be philosophically opposed.
“I think there’s a little bit of a problem with having somebody sign a pledge and then saying, ‘But we don’t trust you,’” she added.
Elerby said the initiative has looked at a similar program in Gunnison County.
“They’ve had wonderful success with parents buying in, students as well,” he said.
The program likely would be changed from the way the Crested Butte community does it, Rivera said, so kids don’t face disciplinary consequences. He wants to provide resources to the families of kids who fail drugs tests.
Carlson said the school could work out the program with students and parents and it’s “not something the board needs to micromanage by any means.”
McHose suggested the program should come back to the board for approval.
“It can’t go forward without our saying we support it and own it,” he said. “We will be accountable.”
Rivera said Wednesday the initiative approached him with the idea, and he supported it, especially after recreational marijuana was legalized this year creating “blurry lines ... for our kids that are pretty impressionable at this age.”
Rivera has a daughter going into fourth grade and said he would support the program for his children.
“I can’t imagine my daughter in two years being exposed to things like that,” he said, “but it’s a reality of what’s going on.”
With kids coming to middle school from more isolated elementary schools, “sixth grade just sounds like the perfect time to start talking about that.”
He plans to meet with parent groups several times this summer.