Board reviews drug testing

Sean C. Morgan

Following a discussion by the Sweet Home School Board Monday night, Supt. Tom Yahraes will gather information about different options for drug testing high school athletes.

“The board asked me to get more information for a July discussion and possible action for a new policy,” Yahraes said following the meeting.

He will compare the cost and benefit of testing all athletes each season like the district did this year or switching to randomized testing.

High school administrators conducted the testing this year. Yahraes will look at the cost and benefits of outsourcing the testing.

Yahraes also will explore the idea of a hybrid system to address different points board members made in the discussion.

Principal Ralph Brown and assistant principals Steve Brown, who is the athletic director, and Mark Looney presented a report to the board Monday about the drug testing policy the district implemented this school year.

They outlined the policy’s goals, to provide for student safety and health, to undermine the effects of peer pressure and to encourage participation in treatment programs for students with substance abuse problems.

High school staff began testing in the fall, developing a strict set of procedural guidelines to make the testing consistent throughout the year.

Under the policy, every athlete was tested each season. Those who test positive could be suspended from competition for up to two weeks, according to the school’s athletic code. For a second offense, they could be suspended from competition for eight weeks or the remainder of the season, whichever was longer.

For a third offense, they could be suspended from games for a year. That amount could be reduced to one season by completing eight weeks of counseling outside SHHS.

The suspension may be carried over from one season to the next.

Steve Brown said these are not meant to be penalties. Rather, he said “Ultimately, we want this person to get help. It’s more important they get help.”

He told the board that parents were supportive, and one said the process changed an athlete’s life.

The three administrators enlisted the help of numerous coaches and staff members to test 16 sports teams. They spent about 220 hours all year performing the tests.

The test kits cost $3,200. It cost an additional $6,600 in staff time.

The district administered 624 tests, including retests. Some 98.2 percent of all students tested negative or drugs. Eleven tests, approximately 1.8 percent, were positive for drugs. Of those, nearly two-thirds, seven, tested positive for legally prescribed drugs; and four tests were positive for illegal drugs.

The high school administrators randomly surveyed 56 athletes, 37 parents and 18 coaches.

Among surveyed athletes, they said, 48 thought the drug testing was a helpful addition to SHHS athletics. Eight did not. Twenty-nine believed that it prevented athletes from using drugs, and 27 did not. Forty-seven thought that students did not participate in sports due to drug testing, while nine did disagreed.

Steve Brown said that some of the students who said it wasn’t a helpful addition to athletics told him that it wasn’t strict enough. They thought the district should test more often.

Thirty-four parents and 17 coaches believed it was a helpful addition to SHHS, while one coach was unsure and three parents disagreed.

Thirty-five parents and 17 coaches believed it had a positive effect on athletes. Two parents believed it had a negative effect, and one coach was unsure.

Nineteen parents and 11 coaches believed that students did not participate due to the drug testing policy, while 18 parents and seven coaches did not think it caused students not to participate.

The high school administrators told the board that the tests can accurately identify the presence of drugs in someone’s system.

They also learned they needed several hours for each testing session because some students were unable to immediately produce a sample. Additional time was needed to retesting, which resulted in loss of class time.

The total time to set up, administer, record data and clean up was longer than they had anticipated.

“We have reflected on the value of drug testing student athletes at SHHS,” they said. “Students parents, coaches and administration believe that there is value in the policy.”

Going forward, the district could begin randomly testing athletes and it could consider outsourcing to experts, which could be more expensive.

“We might be able to streamline it,” said Steve Brown, but the time for setup, testing and cleanup would not change much.

Ralph Brown told the board that when he was in the military, random testing was effective at keeping soldiers from using drugs.

If they had a set time, they would test negative, he said, but afterward, they would be using drugs.

With random testing, “they didn’t know when their number would come up,” he said.

Board member Chanz Keeney said the number of parents and athletes responding was low, and he would have liked more survey responses.

Still he said, “I think it’s a great thing.”

Policies in effect prior to the testing policy tried to keep students from using drugs, but the testing tightened it up.

“I like the idea of outsourcing it and random drug testing,” said Carol Babock, board member.

“I think there were good positive results,” Daniels said. Those who tested positive got some help and are doing better.

Keeney said he liked the idea of outsourcing the service to someone who does it for a living, taking potential liability off of the district.

“You talk about liability,” Ralph Brown said. “We’re not experts.”

Looney said that for $10,000, about the cost of the test kits and staff time, one testing company could randomly test 50 students seven times.

Board member Angela Clegg said she talked to her son, an athlete, about it.

“All of his buddies were fully accepting of it,” Clegg said. He noticed how it could help them avoid going to parties where they may be pressured into using drugs. “I say we keep working on it.”

“I like the idea of randomizing it,” said Chairman Mike Reynolds. That way the athletes cannot prepare for the test ahead of time.

Daniels was concerned about drug-using athletes not being tested and slipping through the cracks if the test were randomized.

If the testing stops even one student from slipping through the cracks, she said, it’s worth it.

Keeney suggested testing all students but outsourcing some of the work in a hybrid of testing in house and externally to minimize liability and reduce the time it takes administrators while ensuring all athletes are tested.

Present at the meeting were board members Mike E. Adams, Daniels, Keeney, Jason Redick, Reynolds, Clegg, Babcock and Debra Brown. Jason Van Eck was absent.

In other business, the board:

n Approved the expenditure of $65,000 from the 2016-17 General Fund and another $65,000 from the 2017-18 General Fund to pay interest on the $4 million bond approved by voters in May.

Business Manager Kevin Strong said the move could reduce the length of the bond payments by one year.

The funds are derived from a state equalization grant, which are provided to districts with local option levies. The district currently uses a local option levy to pay for swimming pool operations.

The board also adopted the 2017-18 budget following a public hearing. The budget takes effect on July 1.

n Accepted resignations from Kallie Boschman, fifth grade at Hawthorne; Mike Tuller, metal shop at SHHS; Mary Bond, high school language arts; Elizabeth Beckett, special education at Holley; Brian Gold, junior high language arts; Amanda Willis, junior high language arts; and Lisa Canaday, junior high math.

n Approved the hiring of Linzy Griffin, sixth grade at Foster; Megan Gonyea, fourth grade at Holley; Sarah Peterson, junior high science; Bailey Davenport, first grade at Oak Heights; Kelley Deckard, Opportunity Room at Oak Heights; Lisa Collins, summer school special education at Hawthorne; Madelyn McQuillian, fifth grade at Foster.