NEW CUMBERLAND - Hancock County's participation in a statewide pilot project to improve vocational education will include random drug testing of students at the John D. Rockefeller IV Career Center, the Hancock County school board learned on Monday.
The drug testing, set to begin with the new school year, is part of a schoolwide Simulated Workplace project designed to introduce students to the demands of the work world, Superintendent Suzan Smith said.
"The state is really making a push to make sure our students are ready for gainful employment," Smith said. "It is a great program."
Although all West Virginia career and technical centers are adopting the Simulated Workplace model, Hancock County is one of only a handful of school districts to institute the project schoolwide for the 2013-14 school year, Smith said.
All Career Center students, with the exception of those in the driver's education, licensed practical nurse and commercial driver's license programs, will be enrolled in the Simulated Workplace project and, thus, be subject to drug testing, said Joan Murray, a health science technology teacher who gave a presentation on the Simulated Workplace model to the board Monday night.
"Every classroom will be a simulated workplace," Murray said.
That means students in each program of study will have to "apply" as if for a regular job, "clock in" each day to record their attendance and submit to random drug testing, among other things, Murray said.
"A lot of it is project based," she said. "It's everything we're already doing, but just a new way of documenting student knowledge within an authentic work setting."
Students also will wear work-appropriate attire, depending on which program they're in, and be trained in such things as emergency procedures and first aid, Murray said.
Drug testing will be done by a third-party vendor, and the cost will be picked up by the state, Smith said. The random drug screenings will test for marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamines and opiates, according to a "workplace simulation drug-free policy" adopted by the board on Monday. Alcohol will be tested on a "reasonable suspicion" basis, according to the policy.
Smith said the drug policy is part of a larger effort on the part of local school districts and the West Virginia Department of Education to stress workplace preparedness and healthy lifestyle choices.
Among the biggest complaints that educators hear from business leaders, Smith said, is regarding the scarcity of qualified entry-level workers - mainly because of poor attendance habits and the inability to pass a drug screening.
"They're really having a challenge with this," Smith said, noting that the oil and gas industry in West Virginia especially is looking for employees who will show up on time and can pass a drug test.
Career Center students who are participating in the Simulated Workplace must return a consent form from their parent or guardian in time for the start of the new school year, Smith said.
The drug testing will be done randomly through the drawing of student numbers that will be submitted to Career Center Principal Martin Hudek by the instructors, Murray said.
About 40 percent of the student body at the Career Center can expect to be tested over the course of the year, Murray said.