Early drug tests result in no true positives

Sean C. Morgan

The school district’s new drug testing program is under way at Sweet Home High School, not without a few glitches.

School officials initially believed a handful of athletes had tested positive for drug use over the past month, but after researching further, officials learned that they had misinterpreted the results, and no students have tested positive for drug use at this point.

Supt. Tom Yahraes reported the information to the School Board Oct. 10

“We didn’t educate ourselves well enough to the variances in the tests,” Yahraes told The New Era.

Athletic Director Steve Brown said in a letter sent to parents on Sept. 29 that administrators “would like to dispel any rumors or misconceptions regarding the administering of our first round of drug testing for athletes.”

“In an effort to be hyper-vigilant, we overreacted to some of the players’ readings,” Brown said. A dark line on the test indicates a negative reading. In some cases, the lines were faint, leading the administrators to believe they were positive results.

Testing began on Sept. 14.

Principal Ralph Brown said Monday that one student in that group had a questionable result.

The athletic director tested that student again the next day, and the second test was negative for drug use, he said.

The school tested the next group of students on Sept. 19, Ralph Brown said. That’s when a handful appeared to test positive, and they began questioning their interpretation of the results that day.

Administrators then went to the students and asked them if there was a reason they might test positive, Ralph Brown said. That’s how other schools in the Sky-Em League respond to a positive result.

He believes that’s where rumors and information began spreading.

“When we talk to the kids, kids will sometimes misinterpret what we say,” Ralph Brown said. They may tell others they tested positive.

Administrators did not contact all of the parents of the students involved afterward, he said.

“To his mind, he (Steve Brown) thought we were fine because all of our results were negative,” Ralph Brown said.

The results appeared to have different levels of shading, so administrators began questioning their validity, Steve Brown said.

They contacted Sutherlin and Junction City officials and the company that provides the tests for clarification.

As it turned out, the reading, any line at all on the test, actually indicates a negative result for drug use, Yahraes said.

Since then, the school has administered a second round of testing for fall sports, Ralph Brown said. One or two students may have been absent and still need to take the test.

“I apologize and take full responsibility for any undue stress to our players and their parents that might have occurred during our initial testing,” Steve Brown said in his letter. “The administration and coaching staff are determined to keep kids safe and healthy by following all guidelines of our policy and athletic codes.”

When the administrators started questioning the test results, Ralph Brown said he got directly involved.

The policy, procedures and tests are new to the staff, he said. They observed the process at another school last year, but observing doesn’t reveal every question or issue that might come up.

The initial procedures were not as tight as they have become since then, Ralph Brown said.

Now, when a test appears positive, Ralph Brown said, and it’s “very clear” when it is a positive result, the student is considered in violation of the policy and a school official will contact parents immediately.

On the first offense, students are immediately suspended from contests for two weeks, Ralph Brown said.

The length of the suspension can be adjusted by the athletic director, but the student must miss at least one contest.

The student will be retested as soon as possible, the next day at the latest, Ralph Brown said. He will let the parents know he wants to retest immediately.

“We want to get the kid in the process of getting help as soon as we can,” he said.

In the case of a positive result on a Thursday, when the next school day is Monday, he said, he would want to arrange a time to retest earlier to help a student avoid missing a game in the case of a false positive reading.

“Parent communication is the linchpin for me going forward,” Ralph Brown said. “I would apologize. We try to be as perfect as we can, but we’re not.”

The procedures are tighter now, he said. “I don’t believe we’ll have any issues.”

In the beginning, the staff members handling the testing were inexperienced and misinterpreted data, he said. The good thing was they questioned the data.

For the winter season, Brown would like to begin testing pre-season to avoid interfering with practices the way it did this fall, he said, and as soon as possible, “I want to have results so I can share them with parents.”