Editorial: Review could lead to fixes for district drug testing program

It’s great to her that our School Board and district administrators are taking a fresh look at their drug testing program for high school athletes, as reported on page 1 in today’s issue.

The policy was approved by the School Board in May 2016 and high school staff began testing last fall, developing a strict set of procedural guidelines to make the testing consistent throughout the year.

In case anybody’s wondering, we want to make it clear that in no way are we suggesting that any recreational or self-medicating use of drugs is OK.

However, the predictability of last year’s program has prompted concerns and we’ve questioned how effective the inflexible penalties for violators last year could be in actually stopping drug use.

We say this in the context of the harsh realities posed by poverty and family disfunction in our high school hallways.

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.

The policy’s goals, according to the district, 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.

We get it that some teens might be so desperate or uncaring that they’ll do drugs no matter what. Maybe they shouldn’t be playing sports. We realize that the realities here can be harsh.

We also understand that some may have figured out ways to game the system.

Those comments, previously reported, from athletes that the testing should be more frequent didn’t come from nowhere. And the option of making tests more random could be pretty effective in discouraging athletes inclined toward cheating.

We get that the system has to be fair and balanced, that administrators and coaches can’t play favorites. But we also know, from lots of exposure to the high school through journalistic and parental activities, that that many kids who probably most need the healthy focus that sports provide are the ones most at risk and liable to be penalized by this system.

And if teens whose lives are already so screwed up that they feel compelled to indulge in fleeting but costly relief offered by illegal substances, which they’ve been told will not be good for them and could land them a lengthy suspension, what incentive is there to clean up their act?

None, really.

There are other options to the hard-and-fast system of penalties we had last year.

The School District’s drug testing program should include a way to get students who test postive for illegal drug use clean and back into their programs.

Those programs, as evidenced by the minuscule number of positive drug tests, are good places to positively influence the few student athletes who may be prone to drug use.

The drug testing policy so far has focused on finding drug users, penalties and helping them.

It should also focus on getting that back into positive programs that can help them be successful at life and perhaps avoid that difficult path into the world of drug addiction.

We like the idea of having someone, not closely associated with the students on a regular basis, administer the tests and we definitely like concept of keeping tests very random – anybody could be tested at any time.

Supt. Tom Yahraes said it right Monday night when he talked about finding new ways to get kids “back into the game.”

We appreciate the board and district administrators taking another look at this. Yes, it could be very effective for some students, but if it relegates others permanently to a wrong path, that’s not a winner.