School board weighs drug testing plan

Does drug testing athletes dissuade them from using drugs or just cost the district money?

That was a big question at the Dec. 8 Lebanon Community School District board meeting.

“What we’re seeing in high school, I think especially this year, is we are seeing a bigger frequency of marijuana at the high school,” said Athletic Director Kraig Hoene. “It doesn’t show necessarily in the expulsion numbers because of our new diversion program.”

The district uses “The Truth About Drugs,” a Scientology-based program through the Foundation for a Drug-Free World. According to its website, the foundation is a nonprofit organization headquartered in Los Angeles and “dedicated to the eradication of illicit drugs, their abuse and their attendant criminality.”

Hoene said the program allows the district to give students the support they need and bring that back to school more quickly.

He said he thinks the reason for an increase in usage of marijuana is that it’s more frequently in homes since recreational use was legalized.

“We’re chasing more situations of kids who are coming in to class, the teachers are feeling like something is not right and doing that sort of thing so I think this is a great time to revisit the topic,” Hoene said. “We thought that in June (20)15 that the new law’s coming; we thought we might see a spike of use in school and this could be a good use of a good tool to divert students from making that choice if they knew there was random testing.”

Board member Richard Borden expressed reservations.

“We don’t have the diversion data to show that that’s gone up,” Borden said. “I wonder if it would be wiser to put the money in drug testing to a diversion program or a program to help these kids before drug testing.”

He asked Hoene for the foundational thought behind drug testing students.

Hoene said it was a preventative measure; that if students thought they were going to be tested, it would dissuade them from using drugs.

Borden thinks it might discourage students from participating in sports and that the money would be better spent elsewhere in the district to help all the students, not just those who participate in sports. He added that he doesn’t think the students who are involved in sports are doing drugs.

Board member Kellie Weber disagreed based on discussions she has had with her own children who attend Lebanon High School.

“That may be absolutely true but to move forward on hearsay is not good enough for me,” Borden said.

Weber thinks drug testing would be a deterrent.

“As a parent, if my kids know they’re never going to get caught doing something, there’s no incentive not to do it, other than just their goodness, but goodness doesn’t trump all the time,” Weber said.

The repercussions of testing positive increase in severity for each time they are caught.

The first time a student tests positive, he or she would be out 14 days and would be required to do drug and alcohol counseling. The second offense would be suspension and the third offense would be ineligibility to participate in athletics.

“Starting last year, we did put in to our athletic policy that once a student signs a code of conduct at Lebanon High School that it includes the summer months,” Hoene said.

That has not been challenged, he added.

“Our proposal is that we would test 10 percent of our athletes once a month, which we’re figuring to be about 25 students a month at $35 a test,” Hoene said.

Board chair Russ McUne said he likes the different aspects of the plan.

“It’s got a little punitive, it’s got a little peer pressure stuff, but it’s also, if they do get caught, then we are helping them with a treatment of some sort to try to make sure that doesn’t happen again,” McUne said.

Borden thinks most students will take the gamble of randomized testing and thinks the money would be better spent on drug education, he said.

Weber noted that drug testing occurs in “real life.”

“Someone can come and interview for a job and be great in an interview but not pass a drug test. This is preparing kids for life. In order to play a sport, you have to be able to pass a drug test.”

Kids know they shouldn’t smoke marijuana, she added. “I don’t think we can educate them any more.”

“This is what’s puzzling to me: We’re saying you can’t smoke marijuana, but where are our laws going?” Borden asked.

Weber pointed out that the rules are the same for alcohol, it is legal but not until a person is 21 years old.

“We don’t test them for alcohol,” Borden said.

Superintendent Rob Hess said the coaches he has talked to support the type of policy Hoene proposed.

“I think they feel that there are some kids that would be saved with this in place because they really want to play the sport,” Hess said.

Assistant Superintendent Bo Yates offered a different perspective.

He said his son participates in sports (in a different district) and that, according to what his son tells him, most students do drugs or alcohol.

“I think we’re really naive if we think that kids aren’t doing that,” Yates said.

He added that he did some research online about the effectiveness of drug testing in schools and the data says it helps maybe 6 percent of the students.

“It’s an economic problem,” Yates said. “Do you want to spend that much money there or do you want to look at doing some sort of education part that you know… As a coach, I’d know the kids that were smoking – that I would be like you’re probably, a lot of you are smoking but there’s a few of you that are smoking a little bit more than the others.

“You want kids to have that avenue to step out, but the data doesn’t show that that’s very effective.”

Yates didn’t have recommendation, he said just wants to make sure the district is making good use of its money.

Input from the coaches and support staff also is important to consider.

When Borden brought up drug education, Hess said research around the drug abuse prevention program D.A.R.E. shows that it never panned out.

“I’m not a punisher and a catcher, but it just seems like we need to do something,” Weber said. “There’s not a kid in this high school that doesn’t know drugs are wrong.”

“I think, with marijuana, that perspective is changing,” Hoene said.