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Ask the Filmmakers

Delvina in Connecticut asks: Have people in Lockney watched the film? What has the reaction to the broadcast been like in the town?

Larry v. Lockney - Mark Birnbaum and Jim Schermbeck Mark Birnbaum and Jim Schermbeck: People in Lockney have watched the film. In fact, John Quebe, the school board member featured in the film, as well as teacher Lisa Mosley, newspaper editor Alice Gilroy and Larry himself all attended the premiere of the film at the Dallas Video Festival in March of 2002 and participated in a panel discussion afterwards. Giving what we thought was the ultimate compliment, John said he had never asked us what our views were on the controversy while we were shooting and after watching the film, STILL couldn't say what our views were. We think most people in Lockney appreciate their point of view being fairly represented. We haven't gotten any hate mail or negative comments from anyone in town and we remain in touch with most of the featured citizens. On the other hand, everyone in town, including Larry, probably doesn't like rehashing the past.

Cate in Brooklyn asks: Who in the town, (after Larry, I'm assuming), did you approach first, after deciding to make the film?

Birnbaum and Schermbeck: You're right, touching base with Larry was the most important first step — without his cooperation and trust, we wouldn't have a film at all. After that, it was Floyd County Hesperian-Beacon Editor Alice Gilroy. This is something Jim learned in his organizing work — local newspaper folks will always know the real poop in a town, and because they've had to cover the story, they'll know who to talk to (as well as maybe who to avoid) and, with any luck, provide an introduction to those same folks. They'll also have all the background stories you need to research on file and be able guide you through the chronology of things. This is exactly what Alice did for us and she became a very valuable link to the community.

Brian in California asks: Would the ruling in this case protect future students of other small towns like Lockney where there is no Larry Tannahill to raise a ruckus?

Birnbaum and Schermbeck: No. In a case out of Oklahoma with circumstances very similar to Larry's, the Supreme Court ruled last summer (Pottawatomie County Board of Education vs. Earls) that public schools do have the right to require random drug testing of students involved in extracurricular activities. I believe you can look up this case through the ACLU, which defended the parents and child involved. [Find out more in our update]. Many legal experts believe the Court's ruling left the door open for random drug testing for ALL students in a public school — the original policy of the Lockney School District.

Holly in the Virgin Islands asks: I don't recall hearing what the school planned to do with the children who passed hot UAs [failed the tests]. Would they go to jail, or get kicked out of school?

Birnbaum and Schermbeck: The Lockney School District DID NOT want to see these students kicked out of school. They were made to go to something called "In-School Suspension" which means they are isolated on campus in an outbuilding where their schooling continued. They were also made to go to drug counseling sessions. They were not punished through the criminal justice system.

George in Maryland asks: For the drug testing that the Lockney school district has done, how many students have tested positive?

Birnbaum and Schermbeck: To tell you the truth, we really can't remember the exact numbers. We know they were small — never more than a handful of students testing positive during each round of testing that actually occurred before Larry's lawsuit. And as the lawyer for the School District says in the film, they were testing positive for marijuana only.

But you should also be aware that the kind of testing Lockney was using then, and now, skews toward positive results for pot because pot stays in your system longer. Alcohol, cocaine, LSD and other drugs are flushed out much quicker and are less susceptible to being discovered [by this testing method]. Other drugs, like solvents, were not tested for at all.

Brian in Minnesota asks: Great piece! Balanced and fair! Did you try to get a social studies or history teacher to speak on camera?

Birnbaum and Schermbeck: Yeah, that was our first thought too. But it was clear that Lisa Mosley was the leading advocate for the testing among the faculty, and in the end we didn't want to dilute her point of view with another teacher's comments (and they were already being reinforced by the School Board and Superintendent). As far as we could tell, everyone employed by the school district felt very comfortable with Lisa speaking for them, and if we remember correctly, deferred to her when we did try to interview the civics teacher. We also did not want to wear out our welcome in the school by disrupting too many classes.

Juliet in New York asks: I know that drug testing companies sometimes market their services to school districts. Was this going on in Lockney or the surrounding areas?

Birnbaum and Schermbeck: Very good question. And the answer is yes. In fact, the same testing company out of Lubbock is doing testing for a lot of the region's schools, including Lockney. And when Lockney was considering its policy, it had a town hall meeting where a representative from that company came and presented information about their services. It turns out they only collect the specimens — the actual testing is done by a third party laboratory in Dallas. We could not get anyone with the company to speak with us, and we really did try to get that interview. Testing is a big business and you find all the dynamics in it that are there with any other big business. By the way, the lab shots in the film were taken at a VA Hospital in Dallas, about the only place that would let us film urine analysis testing.

Paul in Massachussetts asks: Correct me if I'm wrong, but I have the sense that rural Texas politics tend to be politically conservative with a high respect for individual freedom. Why wasn't there more support for Larry in his community on the basis of individual liberties? Another question... I was struck by how Larry made his argument based on the premise of trust for his kids. Do you think that his argument had an impact on parents and ideas about parenting in the community?

Birnbaum and Schermbeck: Your sense is correct. There is a strong libertarian streak in rural Texas politics. But you have to remember that this town of 2,000 saw 11 of its citizens arrested for cocaine dealing and this sent it into a kind of collective shock. They believed their community was under attack, and when you feel attacked, you're more likely to trade individual freedom for collective security. Witness national polling results after 9/11...

As for the impact on parenting in Lockney, we feel woefully inadequate to answer this question. We can only tell you that, as parents ourselves, Larry's actions have made us think hard about our own relationships with our children and what we would do if we were in his boots.





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