Tahoe Truckee school board backs off school drug testing
After hearing from students, educators and a doctor during its Sept. 21 meeting, the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District Board of Trustees began to back away from a proposal calling for mandatory random drug testing of student athletes.
“What I’m hearing is that this isn’t going to work very well,” said board president Suzanne Prouty after nearly two hours of public discussion.
Assistant superintendent Jim Abbott invited a panel, which included principals, coaches, a medical professional and a county education employee. Their presentations portrayed the proposed drug testing as financially taxing, socially questionable and “barely legal.”
“Personally, I’m not in favor of it,” Dr. Ed Heneveld, an emergency room physician at Tahoe Forest Hospital, said of the testing. “There’s some benefit, but then you weigh cost vs. benefit, appropriateness vs. benefit and community support vs. benefit.”
A representative from the Placer County Department of Education, Tad Kitada, told the board that he could not find sufficient data regarding student drug testing because the concept is relatively new; he said he had yet to locate a school in California that had instituted a mandatory testing policy.
The school district is basing its push for drug testing on the findings of a recent survey.
The California Healthy Kids Survey, an anonymous survey issued by the state’s Department of Education, showed that students within the district had an above-average appetite for alcohol and drugs. Participation in the survey required written permission from students’ parents; about half the students in the district did not take the survey.
The meeting also saw students speak out against the proposed policy. Some students felt it was unfair to test only athletes.
“It should be all the students, all the coaches, all the staff,” said Katie Kyler, a senior at North Tahoe High School. “No one should be excluded.”
Kitada explained that it was against the law to impose mandatory drug testing on students because it would be considered a search (which requires probable cause), but that the United States Supreme Court had cleared the way for testing athletes in 1995.
“Student athletes go in knowing they’re not going to have the same level of privacy as other students,” Kitada said.
Mark Martinez, a student-journalist with Tahoe Truckee High School’s newspaper, The Wolverine, told the board he had been interviewing classmates about the possibility of drug testing and the response had been less than positive.
“A lot of kids will quit the team and keep doing the drug,” Martinez said, suggesting the board’s proposal could backfire.
The strongest show of support for the implementation of such a policy came from North Tahoe High School’s principal, Rod Wallace. He said he thought the testing would curb the area’s drug problem among students, and that the procedure would get eventual support from the community.
“I think the positives outweigh the negatives,” Wallace told the board, explaining that the potential of being tested might deter drug use. “It gives the kids another chance to say ‘no,’ it takes the pressure off the kids.”
Board member Mel Cone suggested that efforts focused on athletes would positively affect the entire student body. Did athletes, he wondered, serve as moral guideposts for their peers?
“Who do you look up to?” Cone asked one Truckee student.
“I don’t think we have role models in our school, we’re all around the same age,” answered 12th-grader David Brooks. “I’m not gonna look up to someone in my grade.”
Brooks also echoed Martinez when he told the board that drug testing would more likely deter students from participating in sports than from experimenting with drugs.
“I can see where you guys are coming from with this, but eventually” Brooks paused, “you’re not gonna have any sports teams.”
Besides the apparent lack of support being shown for drug testing, the board was also deterred from implementing the policy after finding out the tests would do little to gauge student alcohol use.
“I thought we would be targeting kids who are drinking heavily,” Prouty said.
By the end of the night, members of the board decided more information on the effectiveness of drug testing needed to be gathered. Prouty also said she would like to see “community buy-in” before supporting the policy.
Cone seemed to capture the night’s collective sentiment best during his closing comments: “Individuals cannot control other individuals, they can only control themselves – that’s my philosophy.”
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