School board OKs athlete drug testing
by Kellen Short
The Watauga County Board of Education gave final approval Monday to a policy requiring high school student-athletes to undergo random drug testing.
The policy passed with unanimous approval, and board members indicated that they hope to expand it to other groups of high school students in the future.
"If we prevent one kid from wrecking their body with some of the side effects that can come from that kind of stuff, then this policy's worth it," board member Ron Henries said.
The policy states that random testing will occur on at least five percent of athletes each year. The school system also may require testing if it has "reasonable suspicion" that a student-athlete is using drugs.
If a student tests positive for drugs or alcohol, he or she will be prohibited from participating in the athletic program for at least 15 school days. Parents will be notified and encouraged to attend counseling sessions with the student.
After the 15 days, the athlete will be retested at the athlete or parents' expense and may rejoin the team if he or she tests negative. A parent or guardian also must sign a release freeing the school from liability due to injury or illness.
If a second positive test occurs during the student-athlete's career, the student will be suspended from the sport for the remainder of the season or at least 30 school days.
A third positive test bans the student-athlete from participating in any sport for one calendar year. The student may only rejoin a team if he provides certification that he is drug-free.
Anyone who refuses to undergo testing will face the same repercussions as one who tests positive, the policy states. But positive test results will not result in school suspension or the notification of law enforcement, the policy says.
Henries said he was startled to hear recently a report describing the number of young people who use anabolic steroids to try to improve athletic performance.
"Something needs to be done about it," he said. "I think a screening program is the right way, I think, to maybe limit some of that."
Henries said that while he supported the policy, he had heard from several parents who thought the testing unfairly targeted athletics above other extracurriculars. Vice Chairwoman Delora Hodges said she had received similar feedback.
Watauga High School Principal Marshall Gasperson said he only had heard from parents supportive of the idea.
He said he thought the policy could be expanded to students who park on campus or possibly other groups. He said he would likely recommend an expansion no later than summer 2014.
Gasperson noted that the school system is not able to randomly drug-test employees except in certain cases, such as pre-employment or for those who drive school vehicles.
The board voted 4-0, with Chairman Lee Warren absent, to approve the policy.