Letters from Lockney

Alice Gilroy

Dateline: May 2003When the original decision was made to implement drug testing in 2000, it seemed to me to be almost anti-climactic. The discussion about drugs in our community had been going on for some time and the process of deciding on a drug testing policy was difficult for the Lockney Independent School District (LISD) School Board. The community had made their views known to the trustees in a huge "town hall" meeting in September 1997. A crackdown on drug dealers in Lockney in October 1998 had netted the arrest of 11 and the community was upset and worried about their children. There was the typical blame-throwing going on about whose fault it was that there were drug dealers in town -- and there was a mood of "what is the school going to do about protecting our children?" The trustees were sensitive to this.

Alice Gilroy, Editor and Publisher, Floyd County Hesperian-Beacon Alice Gilroy

There did not appear to me to be excessive worry among the trustees over whether LISD needed drug testing -- or whether it would be helpful to students and staff -- but rather whether the trustees wanted to take on the role of "big brother government" and take on more "parenting" responsibility. The trustees were certain they had the support of the majority in the community. During the school board meetings I covered, the thing that stood out in the drug testing discussion was the concern for helping students who were having drug problems and protecting students who were doing their best to stay "drug free." Although there were questions, I was not aware of any big concerns about lawsuits. Sundown Independent School District (nearby) had already been doing the drug testing for at least two years and there had been no legal controversy over their testing. The lawyers advising the LISD School Board told them they were on solid ground. So, when the vote was taken it was almost a relief that the "hard part" was done. No one, including myself, was ready for the media feeding frenzy and the scrutiny that followed. The LISD faculty and trustees were surprised, I believe, at the controversy. Especially since they viewed drug testing as a tool to "help" the children.

I went to school in a very large high school, in Virginia, close to Washington D.C. It is hard to explain to people who do not live in a small town just how close teachers and students are here. The coaches and administrators know all of the kids and their families. They visit them in the hospital, they visit in their homes, they attend church together and follow their accomplishments through high school, college, etc. Many teachers and coaches take the place of parents and believe strongly in going the "extra mile" to make sure no one is "left behind." It came as a shock for their motives to be questioned.

I have to admit that I sympathized with the people here. It was obvious they felt "attacked." By the time Mark Birnbaum and Jim Schermbeck arrived to "do the story," the community, I believe, was feeling "raped." None of the media who stormed into the community bothered to "dig" for the story. Some of it was sensationalized and some of it wasn't. When the Fifth Circuit Court ruled in favor of Larry Tannahill, I believe the majority of the community expected LISD to appeal and would have continued to support them in the fight. The trustees continued to believe in the original reasons for testing and thought they could win appeals. However, they lacked the backing of the insurance company, so they dropped the battle.

Two years later, when the Supreme Court eventually ruled in favor of drug testing*, I did not sense an attitude of "I told you so" in Lockney. It seemed to be more of an attitude of, "Good -- let's move on to more important things." The district doesn't seem to be looking back. I'm sure the trustees and the community felt vindicated, but the attitudes that I witnessed did not reflect this. Larry Tannahill probably felt different about the attitude -- I don't know.

What I thought was surprising about the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision was the LACK OF media coverage. I know this may sound bitter, but I wondered, after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of drug testing, where were the "real reporters" that tried to make LISD look like backwards hicks who know nothing about the Constitution. As far as I can tell, things are quiet at the school. The discussion is over. They have moved on. Drug testing was implemented with the same guidelines as the Tecumseh School that won the Supreme Court fight. There were no fights -- no controversy.

My 16 year-old son never talks about drug testing one way or the other. He is involved in athletics, band, UIL, One Act Play. He is also in Boy Scouts with Brady Tannahill (Larry's son). He loves extra-curricular activities and he never questioned the mandatory drug testing rule in order to be a part of those activities. In fact, I never hear any of the kids coming and going through my house talk about it one way or the other. It is not an issue with them -- girls, sports, movies, music, and "how hard was the test," are the subjects I hear discussed. As to the fear that "everyone will know if my kid flunks the test" -- it has proved groundless. I never hear my son and his friends discuss who failed the drug test. Only one time was this ever brought up in my home, when my son told me a story of a young man that was bragging at school about flunking the test. It appears to me that the school administration is being very discreet.

Alice Gilroy is the Editor and Publisher of

the Floyd County Hesperian-Beacon.