West Platte sees no increase in drug use one year after end of testing program

A year after ending its student drug testing program, the West Platte School District hasn’t seen any uptick in drug-related incidents at school.

The board of education heard a report on school discipline at the Wednesday, July 28 regular meeting. Assistant high school principal Ryan Ramey and principal Vincent Matlick spoke to the board about trends in student behavior and how problems are handled.

Board member and former West Platte superintendent Kyle Stephenson asked if building administrators had noticed any changes in drug use at school. In July 2017, the board — with only longtime board member Donald Wilson voting no — ended the random student drug testing program that was put into place in 2012. Months prior to the policy repeal, board members and members of the community had voiced concerns about the fairness of the policy, which largely targeted students involved in school athletic programs. Testing of all students is prohibited, and board members considered the option of expanding testing to all students involved in extra-curricular activities.

“We haven’t really seen any increase,” Matlick said. “Sometimes it’s hard to tell, but if we’re suspicious we intervene. We’ve only seen a couple incidents all year, which isn’t out of line with what we had before.”

Ramey said in his 14 years at the district he had seen the nature of student behavioral issues change. Years ago, the district saw more problems with fights and alcohol and tobacco usage. While those behaviors have improved, he said he spends more time now working to help students settle interpersonal disputes.

“Through talking to my cohorts in other districts, our issues are minimal compared to a lot of them,” Ramey said. “There are a lot less safety issues now. I spend more time as a counselor working on conflict resolution.”

Ramey praised the character education program established under Stephenson’s tenure as superintendent for helping curb many undesirable behaviors.

Board member Shane Bartee told administrators the board needs to know when more staff might be needed to help maintain low teacher-student ratios and to keep education personalized.

Matlick agreed that maintaining that ratio was important to allow staff to get to know students on a personal level. Such connections also gave students a reason to feel connected to the school community.

“Building relationships with kids who are struggling takes up a lot of time, but it’s worth it,” Matlick said.