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Other Voices: To test or not to test?

I have prepared a survey for parents, student athletes, staff and community members in partial fulfillment with the requirements for the Masters of Science in Educational Administration.

When I approached Principal Marty Mathiesen about this project, he was supportive and enthusiastic about seeing the results. More than 100 hours of research have been invested in this topic and I wanted to share some of it with the community, so you will have a better understanding of why this survey is being distributed and what others are saying across America about this issue.

The Nevada Joint Union High School District has had a random drug testing policy for student-athletes since 1996. Students and parents are required to sign an agreement consenting to random testing before students are allowed to participate in athletics. The district also has an athletic code which deals with discipline for student-athletes who test positive. This policy was amended in June of 2005. The agreement and athletic code are available on our Web site (www.nuhsd.org) under athletics. Our site has between 1,000 and 1,100 student athletes who are randomly tested each week.



In 1995, the Supreme Court ruled that it was legal for public schools to implement a random drug testing policy for student-athletes. The Vernonia School District 47 v. Acton decision was based on strong evidence of a drug culture led by student-athletes. Administrative control and safety of students were the primary issues cited by the school.

Since 1995, numerous efforts to reverse this decision have failed. Although the Supreme Court has upheld its original decision many times and drug free schools are a common denominator in education, why is the policy of random drug testing so difficult to implement?




The White House Office of National Drug Policy estimates that only 600 of 15,000 school districts nationwide implement drug testing policies. I have interviewed 40 local schools and none implement random testing. The primary reasons cited are cost, ethics, logistics of time and personnel and litigation.

Organizations such as the National PTA, the ACLU, the National Academy of Sciences, American Academy of Pediatrics and American Public Health Association have expressed concerns about the effectiveness and potential harm of drug testing in schools.

On the other hand, the current White House administration is supporting increased drug testing while numerous state legislatures and athletic governing bodies have called for mandatory implementation and funding for drug testing programs in public high schools.

The dilemma for many districts is how to accomplish this task when budgets are being reduced at state and local levels. Costs for a drug test range between $30-$100 per test depending on what the test includes. Each school district determines what the test should include. There is not a standard test.

The California Interscholastic Federation, which governs all athletics in California public schools, has made it mandatory for all members to have a policy on the use of steroids and has passed a rule forbidding any coaches, schools or athletes from accepting donations from, or being associated with, muscle-building products.

This issue has been fueled recently in the media by deaths of three young athletes as the result of using steroids and the media hype over professional athletes accused or convicted of using banned or illegal substances to gain an advantage.

Some of the most common pro and con arguments are listed as follows:

Pro arguments

n It is the right thing to do.

n Cost should not be an issue when dealing with our children’s health and safety.

n It gives student-athletes the opportunity to “just say no” under peer pressure.

n Schools have the responsibility to act as parent figures (in local parentis).

n It worked in Vernonia in 1995.

n According to the Federal Centers for Disease Control, steroid use has nearly tripled among teens to more than 6 percent.

n A 2001 Ball State University survey reflecting a significant increase in drug or alcohol use in 71 high schools after the Indiana legislature suspended drug testing.

Con arguments

n Drug testing destroys the positive relationships between school and student.

n It is ethically and morally wrong.

n It should be the responsibility of the parent and not the school to drug test.

n It is not equitable unless all students and staff are also randomly tested.

n False negative tests/students on legal medication, diet, etc.

n It encourages students to use more alcohol and alternative drugs that are hard to test for.

n Students’ civil rights and privacy are being violated.

n Students athletes are already a low risk group. Spend resources rehabilitating the high risk students and educating all students on health issues better.

n Direct cost to school districts.

n Abuses such as the federally-supported SATURN research project.

n Supreme Court decision requires proof of an existing drug problem before implementation. Application of the Vernonia decision is too broad.

n School administrators are not advised or educated about technical aspects of testing.

Current research is contradictory and is being cited by proponents and opponents in the ongoing debate.

The 2001 Ball State study reflected drug testing as a significant deterrent in 85 schools surveyed while the University of Michigan study in 2003 reflected no impact on testing on drug and alcohol use among 35,000 student-athletes that were surveyed in 894 schools.

Research is inconclusive on the effectiveness of random drug testing of student-athletes; therefore it should be a decision that is based on the dynamics of each community and school district. It is important that school administrators listen to the community and know how they feel about issues.

I encourage community members to complete the survey and return by mail or in person to Nevada Union High School within two weeks. Results of the survey will be available upon completion on the school athletics Web site (www.nuhsd.org).

Random drug testing survey

The following survey of five questions is voluntary and the results are anonymous. It is being presented to student-athletes, staff members, parents and community members in order to analyze, interpret and assess current levels of support for the random drug testing of student athletes at Nevada Union High School.

Please check the most appropriate of the following:

My current primary role in completing this survey is:

__ Parent __ NU staff __ Student-athlete __ Community member

__ I am under the age of 18 and have parental consent to complete this survey

Please answer the following by checking either “agree” or “disagree:”

1. Random drug testing discourages student-athletes from using alcohol and/or illicit drugs.

__ Agree __ Disagree

2. Random drug testing of student-athletes is worth the financial and logistical costs to the district.

__ Agree __ Disagree

3. Random drug testing of student-athletes is eithical and moral.

__ Agree __ Disagree

4. It is the responsibility of public schools to randomly drug test student-athletes.

__ Agree __ Disagree

Please check the most appropriate box for the final question:

5. I support the current policies and procedures of NJUHSD and believe random drug testing of student-athletes is effective and should continue.

__ Strongly agree __ Agree __ No opinion __ Disagree __Strongly disagree

Please return form to Nevada Union High School Athletics Director Steve Pilcher. For more information, contact Pilcher at 273-4431, ext. 247.


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