MYRTLE BEACH — Horry County school officials will spend the coming months studying whether the district will randomly drug test some students.
The idea was floated at a school board meeting Monday where Superintendent Rick Maxey said random drug testing had "taken a foothold" at schools in other parts of the state and that school administrators in Horry County had asked the district to look at the idea.
School district attorney Ken Generette said that elsewhere, the testing programs use participation in a school sport, extracurricular activity or driving on campus as privileges that could be revoked if a student tests positive. Students involved in those activities are the ones who would be tested.
"In some of these programs, parents have volunteered to have their children be a part of this pool," Generette said at the meeting.
The district will create a committee to study whether testing should be implemented, which would not happen before the 2018-19 school year.
Horry County Board of Education Chairman Joe DeFeo said the proposed testing would target high school students or those who participate in high school sports.
School officials said a testing program would likely include a counseling component for students that fail a drug screen.
"There's obviously a drug epidemic in the United States," DeFeo said. "I think that if we do nothing, that we may become part of the problem."
Drug testing is already in place in Beaufort County schools, Anderson District 5 and Lexington District 1. Rock Hill is exploring the idea, Horry County school spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier said.
Kyle Newton of Anderson District 5 said Tuesday that the school system there was one of the first in the state to implement the testing, in 2014. From the fall of 2014 to the beginning of 2017, he said, 10 students of the almost 4,000 in the district's two high schools have tested positive in a drug screen that checks for drugs ranging from marijuana to heroin to steroids.
Newton said that legally the district can't bar students from class if they fail a drug test, only from optional activities such as athletics and clubs. The first time a student fails, they are barred from a quarter of their games or activities that season and are subject to a test every month for the next calendar year.
On the second failure, they're barred from participating for a full year.
The third time, a student is permanently banned from all sports and clubs.
"I don't believe we've had a student fail a third time," Newton said.
He said the tests were not without controversy as they were implemented, but for some students, the specter of getting selected for a test can make it easier to avoid illicit substances in social situations.
That's one of the reasons Holly Heniford, who represents North Myrtle Beach on Horry County's school board, said drug testing could be a useful prevention tool.
"The kids that are put in bad situations that don't want to do drugs, guess what? They’ve got an excuse to fall back on where they don't lose face with their peer group," Heniford said.
Wendy McCrackin, who has a daughter that plays volleyball at Myrtle Beach High School, said she's concerned about what she sees as more frequent use of marijuana today than when she was in school. Students don't take prohibitions against the drug seriously, she said, because it has been legalized or decriminalized elsewhere in the country.
She was also wary that a drug testing system would prove too punitive for students who may not have structure outside of school activities or athletic teams.
If teenagers who need structure are kicked out of sports, she said, "all that's going to do is, the productive thing the kid was involved with is getting taken away."
Janet Graham, who represents Carolina Forest and Conway on the Board of Education, said she had some reservations about the idea and wanted assurances that selection of who is tested would be totally random.
"It's interesting, it has some merits, but if it's not done correctly I can see it being a nightmare," she said.