Loyalsock Township schools drug testing policy upheld

Loyalsock Township students in sixth through 12th grade must continue to submit to random drug testing if they want to participate in extracurricular activities or get a parking permit, a Lycoming County judge recently ruled.

Former Loyalsock high school student Brandon Fagnano, who graduated in 2012 and now attends Penn State, challenged a district drug testing policy implemented in February 2011 that requires any student in any club, sport or music program, or any student that wants an on-campus parking pass, to consent to a random drug testing policy. Those groups make up about 85 percent of the student population.

Judge Richard Gray issued an injunction last April that allowed Fagnano, who was a Leo Club member and junior class president, to resume activities until graduation, though the testing policy remained in place.

Hearings on the case in late March, and further briefings by both parties afterward, led to Gray handing down a decision upholding the school’s drug testing policy.

To make his decision, Gray considered the 2003 state Supreme Court ruling Theodore vs. Delaware Valley School District, a ruling in favor of the student challenging that district’s drug testing policy.

In that case, the Supreme Court ruled the district “needs to provide more evidence than the general ‘need to deter drug use’ in order to support its drug testing policy,” the judge wrote. Loyalsock Township “made an actual showing of the specific need for the policy.”

That showing of the need included testimony from eight members of school staff, the administration and the school board about drug use in Loyalsock Township schools.

Gray cited Superintendent Robert Grantier testifying “that student drug users come from all of the student organizations” and Coach Ron Insinger’s testimony “that students, including student athletes, were beginning to experiment with drugs at an earlier age.”

The district also presented as evidence data from the biannual Pennsylvania Youth Survey showing that about 17 percent of district seniors, in 2011, had tried marijuana and 9.5 percent had tried any sort of other illicit drug, and a spreadsheet showing 64 drug and alcohol incidents from 2003 through the end of the 2011-12 school year.

The district did not present a complete number of incident reports for any time period. Gray wrote that “the Court does not believe our Supreme Court requires a scientific study or clear statistical proof to uphold a student drug testing policy.”

The most decisive testimony, Gray wrote, were the comments made by students about increasing drug use in the district in the fall of 2010, to the committee exploring ways to reduce student drug intake.

Grantier was pleased with the decision.

“This is about the safety of children. This policy is to help kids, and basically in my viewpoint to allow kids the ability to say no,” he said. “This really stops peer pressure. We don’t believe students are going to risk losing those privileges. This has nothing to do with education or graduation, and everything to do with privileges. Everything to do with getting kids help.”

Grantier says the district will educate parents and students over the summer about the policy and continue to look at ways it may be changed for improvement.