High school athletes in Bonner County might have to take a drug test if they want to play sports this year.
The district plans to institute a mandatory drug testing policy that would require students to give a urine sample before they are allowed on a team.
“It became apparent to me (the last few years) some athletes were not living up to the student conduct code,” said Priest River Lamanna High School activities director Ron Hopkins. “I realized it was going to be hard to control that without some form of drug testing.”
Hopkins pitched the mandatory program to school trustees this week. He gave board members 100 signatures from Priest River residents who favor the testing and said other activity directors support the plan.
The school board agreed with the idea and wants to adopt a policy next month to start testing student athletes.
“Parents support the program and I would like to see it get going as soon as possible,” said trustee Teresa Asbill.
If the policy is adopted, Bonner County would be the second district in the state that requires a mandatory drug test for athletes. A high school in Blackfoot, Idaho, was the first to have the program, which will take effect this fall.
Bonner school board members were concerned whether the program would be legal and not violate students rights, especially since Hopkins recommended a district official be in the room with students when they give urine samples.
“The policy needs to be fine-tuned and drafted by legal counsel,” board member Jerry Owens said. “Then I would be more than happy to support this.”
School District attorney Charles Dodson said the issue has already gone to the U.S. Supreme Court. A district in Oregon was challenged by a student for its mandatory drug testing policy. The court sided with the district in 1995. Bonner County intends to pattern its program after the one used in Oregon.
Hopkins started a voluntary drug testing program in Priest River last year. Nearly all of the girls basketball team, 28 of the 30 players, participated, the highest participation rate among all sports. It’s now time to put all athletes to the test, he said.
Few students are aware the district is eyeing the policy since school isn’t scheduled to begin until early September.
“I’m kind of surprised by it,” said 16-year-old Chris Scarlett, who plays football at Clark Fork High School. “I don’t think it’s necessary because drug use isn’t that much of problem with the athletes.”
Scarlett suspects some students won’t play sports if the policy becomes a reality. Some will opt out for fear of being caught, others just won’t want to deal with the embarrassment of urinating in a cup with someone else in the room, he said.
“If that is what I have to do, though I wouldn’t have a problem doing it,” Scarlett added.
Sandpoint High School football coach Satini Puailoa said the program really hasn’t been discussed enough. There are many details to be ironed out, such as who will watch the students give samples, who pays for the tests and why not test all students in extra-curricular activities? Sandpoint High School has about 150 football players on the roster this year, and giving urine tests to them all will be time-consuming.
“The Pandora’s box we open may be quite larger than meets the eye,” Puailoa said. “I’m not condemning it or opposed to it, there are just lots of questions. I think it is a positive thing we are even talking about it. Many places are not even open to the idea.”
In Hopkins’ proposal, students will pay $10 for the initial test. Drug education money and donations can help cover costs for students who can’t afford it.
The test will be sent to a lab in Texas that will screen for several types of drugs including marijuana, cocaine and alcohol.
Students who test positive will be suspended for two weeks, under the proposed policy, and be required to attend drug counseling. Those students then will be tested again after the two week suspension. If they test positive a second time, they’ll be suspended from all sports for a calendar year. Random testing of athletes would also be conducted throughout the year.
The exact details of the program still have to be worked out, including making sure students using prescription drugs aren’t unfairly accused of using illegal substances.
“There is probably some real positive things that can happen from the program,” said Bill Young, executive director of the Idaho High School Activities Association. “If they are going to be tested, it is a deterrent. Students can say ‘No way am I getting involved in this because I could lose my eligibility.”’
The problem, he said, is when the testing is used strictly as punishment rather than trying to help get kids turned around.
“If the whole idea is punishment then it should be for all kids in high school, just not athletes.”