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Originally published: 2012-08-10 10:22:02
Last modified: 2012-08-10 10:22:02

From the Superintendent’s Desk: School begins, random drug-testing policy introduced

David Burleson

The 2012-13 has begun! We have more than 2,200 students enrolled! At Avery County Schools, it is our privilege to partner with you, our families and our community, to provide the absolute best education for our children knowing that the impact goes far beyond what is accomplished this year. I encourage students and their families to set goals to make this the best year they have ever had, to work hard and to get involved in their schools. It will make a difference. 

Like you, Avery County Schools sets goals for the year focusing on students and their success. I would like to share just three of them:

1. One of our primary goals is to reduce and eventually eliminate our dropout rate. Over the last two years, ACS’ dropout rate has been cut in half. While this is a significant reduction, we still have a lot of work ahead of us if we are to provide each student in our school system a reason to complete his or her diploma. We must ensure that each student is connected to something they value, whether a person or an extra-curricular program. While many opportunities are provided, we must encourage each student to participate.

2. Another important goal for ACS is to create community schools. We believe that your school should be the center of its community in regard to activity, sports, gatherings, events – you name it. We want to open our schools up for community use. We also want parents to feel comfortable visiting their schools, involving themselves in the programs offered and knowing their schools’ teachers and staff.

3. Our third goal is to create a learning environment where students can be successful. ACS cares about each child. We will continue a collaborative, cooperative working relationship between the schools, the parents, the businesses/industries and the community. When we set a goal to help students achieve success, and we expect our schools to provide opportunities for success, then all of our students benefit. 

One way we believe that can help students to be successful is to do everything in our power to help them stay drug and alcohol free. Our school board has adopted a new random drug-testing policy for our high school students. The main purpose of this policy is to encourage students to avoid the use of drugs and to provide assistance to our young people who have make the bad decision to become involved with drugs.

Here are some highlights of the policy:

General Policy Statement 

Avery County Board of Education strongly believes that drug and alcohol abuse can be detrimental to the physical and emotional health and the academic performance of its students. Furthermore, the board believes that high school athletes, cheerleaders and other students participating in extracurricular activities are representatives of the school system and are often role models for other students and, therefore, have great influence on other students. It is from this rationale and out of concern for students’ well-being and safety that a random student drug testing program is being initiated in Avery County Schools. The goal of the random drug-testing program is to help students by deterring and eliminating the use of illegal and/or controlled substances in its schools.


A. All students in grades nine through 12 who desire to participate in any of the following voluntary school activities must agree to participate in the random student drug-testing program:

• Interscholastic athletics; 

• All competitive, extracurricular activities;

• All elective clubs (clubs that have no impact on a students grade);

• Students seeking a parking permit on campus;

• Students who volunteer to enter the program as set forth below.

Hereinafter, these activities will be referred to as “voluntary activities,” as the board believes participation in these activities is a privilege, not a right.

B. To be eligible to participate in the voluntary activities, the student and his/her parents or legal guardians must participate in the random drug-testing program.  Participation in the random drug-testing program shall not be required as a condition of attending school, enrolling in any class or participating in any activity that receives a grade recorded on the student’s transcript.  

C. Any parent of a student in Avery County Schools may consent to the student voluntarily participating in the random drug-testing program, whether or not the student is a participant in any of the voluntary activities listed above. The same procedures will apply, as outlined in this policy, for all students participating in random student drug testing. Furthermore, any parent of a student in Avery County Schools may request when their student is tested as well. Any test performed pursuant to this section may be billed directly to the parents requesting random drug testing of the student. 

D. The superintendent or his designee shall develop a plan by which students may volunteer to be placed in a random drug/alcohol testing pool in accordance with this policy.

Consequences of testing

• The student shall not be subject to suspension from school for a positive test, unless the student is in violation of other portions of the Avery County Schools’ Student Code of Conduct.

• Students will not be penalized academically for testing positive for illegal drugs or banned substances under this policy.

• Many students participate in several voluntary activities, and may participate in multiple activities at one time, such as participating in a sport as well as obtaining a parking privilege. The consequence for a positive test will apply to all activities the student is currently participating in and may apply to participation in future voluntary activities as well. 

First positive test

• The student and student’s parent/guardian are notified by the Medical Review Officer. The parents/guardian will have three calendar days to conference with the MRO to confirm the results of the test. 

• The student is not precluded from participation in the voluntary activities or parking privileges, as a result of the first positive test, provided the parent/guardian provides the MRO with a certification from the student’s physician, on the form attached to this policy. If the physician’s certification is not provided to the MRO within seven calendar days, the MRO shall promptly notify the superintendent’s designee, and the student shall be ineligible to participate in the voluntary activities covered by this policy until such physician’s certification is filed with the MRO. 

• The MRO shall provide the parent/guardian a list of resources for substance abuse assessment and intervention in the Avery County area.

• The parent/guardian is encouraged to actively seek assistance for the student.

• In order to regain eligibility, the student must agree to be subject to a mandatory retest between 30 and 90 calendar days of the first positive test. The student will be identified by the contracted test administrator for retesting on a regularly scheduled test date. 

Second positive test 

Any student who refuses to be tested or tests positive for a second time shall be ineligible to participate in the voluntary activities on the Avery County School campus for 365 calendar days.

This policy originated with my Student Advisory Council. I can truly say that the group of young people on this advisory council is the best I have worked with during my 30 years in education. These students wanted to develop strategies to help their friends say no to drugs. Paige Henderson, a rising senior at Avery High School and a charter member of the Student Advisory, writes this to summarize the thoughts of the advisory council about the random drug-testing policy:

“I am very excited that the school board has decided to proceed with the random drug-testing policy at our school. I have always pushed for this policy and I believe it will be a beneficial addition to our school. I strongly support this idea because growing up in this generation, I can verify that drugs are everywhere and can be made available to anyone. As upsetting as that statement is, it is completely true. Random drug testing is an excellent idea because users can be anywhere – on our athletic teams, in our leadership clubs and even in our areas of highest achievement such as National Honor Society. The point I am trying to get across is that kids can get drugs very easily these days and it is a good idea to randomly test because the drugs are being used by a wide range of students. Hopefully, with the knowledge that ACHS will be randomly drug testing, students will be smart enough to walk away from it. I am very excited this is coming to our school, because I think it will not only act as a positive influence, but also keep users from going under the radar.”

Not only has our Student Advisory Council had a strong voice in establishing this policy, but our Parent, Teacher and Classified Advisory Councils have also added input into the development of this policy. With strict but compassionate enforcement this policy can make a difference for our students. 

My hope and prayer is that this school year will be the best ever for our school system and for each student we serve. With everything all of us have been faced with in terms of economic downturns, budget cuts, budget uncertainty and shortage of staff, we have experienced incredible accomplishments here at ACS and it is due to dedicated people, positive attitudes and community support. My door is always open and I welcome your calls, emails or visits. I want to know how ACS can better serve our community.

I am looking forward to the new school year and working with you to provide each of our students the best education possible.

David Burleson
Superintendent, Avery County Schools