Students in Bonner County schools use drugs. That’s no secret.
What school officials want to know is whether a mandatory drug testing policy will help curb the problem.
About 70 residents turned out Wednesday to debate a program that would require only athletes to give urine samples and be screened for drug use. Students in grades seven through 12 would be tested.
Some patrons argued the problem will get worse if the district doesn’t act now. Others said the financially strapped district should spend money on educational programs and dilapidated buildings, not urine tests of athletes.
Sandpoint High School student Kristy Osmunson told trustees her chemistry class had puddles of water on the floor from a leaky roof, outdated textbooks and too few microscopes.
“We need so many things in our schools,” she said. “If you are spending more money, it needs to be for improving things for kids who are there for the right reasons. The bad kids are getting too much attention.”
The policy calls for randomly testing 10 percent of student athletes each week. Sandpoint High School Principal A.C. Woolnough estimated that would cost $17,000 to $20,000 a year at his school alone. The district has a budget deficit of more than $80,000.
“Do we have those resources?” Woolnough asked, adding he is not against testing. “But personally, I would rather help the band raise money to go to the state championships, rather than raise money to test them (for drugs).”
The mandatory testing policy has its strongest support in Priest River, where a voluntary program was started last year.
More than 100 residents signed on to require the testing districtwide.
“There are lots of reasons why we shouldn’t do this, but most of them are political,” patron Todd Sudick said. “It would look bad for the town.” He pushed for the testing, saying it is done at most workplaces.
“The problem is being attacked all around us by industry,” he added, “and we need to mirror what’s going on in the real world.”
While some claimed it was unfair to single out athletes, Sudick said those are the students who are looked up to as “heroes.” Athletes can be role models for younger students and help send the message that using drugs is not cool or tolerated, he said.
Kathy Ackley said her son was not at the board meeting because he went to an Alcoholics Anonymous gathering instead. She discovered he had a drinking problem last year when he refused to sign the voluntary drug testing agreement to play basketball.
“We have to start somewhere,” she said, urging trustees to adopt mandatory testing.
Woody Aunan, a teacher and parent, said he was “flabbergasted the district is even considering the program. Parents should accept responsibility for their kids. The burden shouldn’t be laid at the district’s feet.
“If I want my kids tested, I will do it myself,” he said. “I will tell them face to face I don’t trust them.”
Other parents countered, saying they were not abdicating responsibility to the district, they just needed help.
“We are in a county where a huge number of kids don’t have that (parental) support,” counselor Eric Ridgeway said. “There’s a huge drug problem in this community, and testing can encourage kids to not start.” Bonner County would be the second district in the state to adopt mandatory drug testing. It is done in Blackfoot, Idaho.
Bonner County’s proposed program is modeled after one in Oregon. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that school districts had the right to require student athletes submit to drug tests. Some suggested either all students be tested or none. Trustees said a program forcing all students to submit to a drug screen would not withstand a legal challenge.
The board made no decision. They will review public comments and discuss ways to finance a program before the next meeting.