Connect 4: Board considers random drug-testing for program
By Kelby Newcomb
Students enrolled in the Connect 4 program could be subject to random drug-testing beginning next school year.
Administrative assistant Jennifer Winkle asked about the policy at the C4 Board of Directors meeting Wednesday, March 13.
“I was curious about random drug-testing as a safety issue,” she said.
Winkle said she and C4 director James Knight operate the program like a job, with students clocking in and out each day.
“We treat this like a job, and they do have to be drug-tested to get a job,” she said. “We have had a couple instances this semester where we have had students get in trouble due to drugs. It has opened my eyes to the fact it happens and happens here.”
Board member Bud Phillips agreed it was an issue worth discussing.
“It would be a pretty bad blow if we send kids to internships, jobs or whatever,” he said, “and they get drug-tested and don’t pass. That wouldn’t be good at all.”
Superintendent Bryan Pruitt said the Eureka Springs School District has random drug-testing for its students who drive to campus or participate in extracurriculars. He recommended that the drug-testing for the Connect 4 program could be done through the local school districts.
“We would treat this as an extracurricular,” Pruitt said, “so they’re subject to be tested at any point in time.”
“So it would happen at your schools?” Winkle asked.
“That mechanism is already in place,” board president Rodney Ellis said.
Pruitt said the districts could follow the consequences in their respective handbooks if students in the program test positive.
“It could be so many days away from this program,” he said.
Superintendent Owen Powell said the Berryville School District has students complete a counseling program after the first drug offense.
“Then it goes into not being able to participate in programs,” he said.
Superintendent Matt Summers said the Green Forest School District does not perform random drug-testing of its students. He said he would have to go before the Green Forest School Board to get a new policy implemented for the program.
“We don’t approve any policies without a third reading,” he said.
That way, he said, members of the community have three months to voice their opinions on proposed policies. The process would take three months, he said.
Phillips said Green Forest does have consequences if students are caught doing drugs.
“It’s reactionary,” he said. “There’s no drug-testing.”
Board member Al Larson said Green Forest would have time to review a policy since the random drug-testing would not be implemented for the C4 program until next school year.
“We would have time since this wouldn’t go into effect until next semester,” Larson said.
Summers agreed, saying the third and final reading would take place in June.
“That’s the same meeting we approve our handbooks,” he said. “This policy also has to go through our Personnel and Policy Committees (PPC). We need to do it right. I do think it’s right for the program.”
Phillips asked if Winkle and Knight were considering doing the random drug-testing at the Carroll County Career Center or letting the Berryville, Eureka Springs and Green Forest school districts handle it.
“You don’t want to do that here,” Pruitt said. “They don’t want the responsibility here for that liability because then you’re opening yourself up to lawsuits.”
Ellis suggested the board table the issue and discuss it further at the May board meeting.
Also at the meeting, Knight updated the board on finding internships and jobs for students with local companies. He said Berryville Machine & Repair, Carroll Electric Cooperative Corp., Tyson Foods, Hutchens Construction, Prospect Steel, Kampco Steel Products Inc., Nomad and Wilson Combat all have expressed interest in hiring students from the C4 program.
He said he has been formulating the best fit for every student.
“That’s just the beginning,” Knight said. “Outside of this area, I have a whole lot of avenues I can pursue to funnel these guys or girls into a job if they want to get out of this town or even out of state.”
He said what he would like to do in the future is hold a signing day for students entering internships and jobs with these companies.
“I’d like to get something nailed down toward the end of the year about who is going to which company,” he said, “so we can do a signing day up here at the school like how kids sign to go to a college. Something of that nature would be really cool.”
“That’s a big deal for these technical kids to get recognized along with your academic folks,” Ellis said.
Phillips suggested they could come up with some sort of cord students who complete the C4 program could wear at graduation, and Powell said the schools could recognize the certifications they received at awards night like they do for scholarships.
Winkle updated the board on upcoming school tours of the career center. She said Berryville will be bringing about 300 students from the high school on March 26. Eureka Springs will be bringing freshmen, sophomores and juniors on April 29 and eighth-grade students on May 14, she said. She said Green Forest is planning to bring all of its middle school students for a tour, and the date is to be determined.
She also gave the board enrollment estimates for next school year.
“Berryville has had 24 applications filled out so far, with seven existing students,” Winkle said. “Eureka Springs would have two existing students and four new students. They will tour the school, so they could have more. Green Forest has about 24 students interested, with five existing students. We could have more after the tour.”
She said there will be upwards of 60 students in the C4 program next year.
“That doesn’t surprise me at all,” Phillips said.
Summers said there are about 30 Green Forest students interested so far.
“That’s a jump from nine to 30 in one year,” he said. “Our kids that are doing it are talking it up, and it’s not negative. This is the way to go.”
Knight said he expects the program to be filled up once students see graduating seniors receiving jobs with local companies.
“That’s my whole motivation,” he said.
Summers said interest will probably increase even more when graduates return and show current students their check stubs.