Lincoln County Board of Education members voted last Tuesday to implement a drug testing policy for the county’s student athletes. The policy, effective at the start of the 2014-2015 school year, will require a drug testing company to perform random drug tests of all Lincoln County high school student athletes.
“The school board wants to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their student athletes and deter students from drugs,” Assistant Superintendent Dr. Matt Stover said.
While Lincoln County Schools have had a notice in their student handbooks that drug tests for athletes could be required, this is the first time a countywide drug-testing program will be implemented.
“We originally put a Drug and Alcohol Policy in place in 1995,” Stover said. “Then, in 2002, the school board decided random drug tests for student athletes could be conducted at the school level with permission of the superintendent. Now the decision will be executed centrally instead of by each individual school.”
The random drug tests will be conducted at various times throughout the school year, and will look for evidence of both recreational and performance-enhancing drug use. First-time violators will be ineligible to participate or compete in any extracurricular sports programs for 90 days. Those wishing to return to their sport will be required to provide a urinalysis negative of any drugs.
Those found in violation for a second time will be ineligible to participate or compete in school sports for one calendar year. A mandatory urinalysis will be required to rejoin their sports team. Finally, a third violation will result in the student’s ineligibility to participate in school sports for the remainder of their high school career. According to Stover, Lincoln County will not require students to participate in any counseling or drug education programs.
The drug testing program has met with mixed reactions from county coaches and athletic directors. North Lincoln athletic director and baseball coach Jon Carpenter and Lincolnton athletic director and football coach Scott Cloninger both said they support the concept of drug testing, but see issues with certain parts of the policy — particularly the 90-day penalty for a first offense, which could result in a student athlete missing tryouts for a sport in another season.
“I’m for it, even when we’ve discussed it previously,” Carpenter said. “I hate how they’re singling athletes out. We gave our opinion about that two or three months ago. But it’s a start. I can’t complain about that. I believe in second chances, just like anybody else does. And that 90 days, depending on the season you’re in, kind of cuts down on a second chance.”
Cloninger said he had hoped the program would include some type of counseling or education for student’s caught violating the policy.
“There are four components,” Cloninger said. “We need to educate our student athletes. As far as I can remember, there is nothing special that comes to our athletes from Lincoln County Schools to educate them on drugs. Second, we have to punish them. My problem is that the penalty is really more than 90 days. If they test you on Aug. 20, 90 days from then a student athlete cannot try out for basketball, because tryouts have already been held. Bottom line is the punishment is now for two sports seasons.
Third, we have to counsel them. Counseling is a very important thing. We have to talk to them and address the issues. The fourth thing is, we just can’t throw these kids under a train after a first offense. The suspension should be shorter, and you have to show these kids we care for them. We want them to be successful; we want them to have the opportunity to be a successful young adult. We need to love them. That’s not what we’ve done.”
The drug testing of student athletes is not an entirely new, but somewhat rare, concept for North Carolina. According to their website, Gaston County Schools established their athletic drug testing policy in February of 1999. The policy was designed to identify student athletes using or abusing drugs in order to provide assistance through counseling, education and treatment. The student athletes, subjected to random drug testing throughout the school year, are tested for drugs such as cocaine, marijuana, PCP, opiates, amphetamines, steroids and alcohol. All testing is conducted through urinalysis, with the exception of alcohol testing, which is conducted through a breath alcohol device.
First-time violators are ineligible to participate in two school games, but are allowed to participate in practice. For football, there is only a one-game penalty. They are also required to complete an approved drug education program and assessment along with an additional mandatory urinalysis. An administrator will also conduct a conference with the violator’s parents.
Students caught for a second violation are deemed ineligible for participation in all sports for one calendar year. A second administrator-parent conference will be held. Second-time violators are also participate in a mandatory drug assessment and education program, lasting at least 16 weeks in duration. An additional mandatory urinalysis is also required.
Third-time student violators are eliminated from school sports programs for the remainder of their high school career.
Gaston County Schools does allow a student athlete to self-refer once during their high school career. This allows the student to come forward and admit that he or she is using drugs. However, student athletes are not allowed to self-refer on the day of a random drug test. The penalty under a self-referral is similar to a first offense with the exception that the student will be ineligible to participate in games for five days, beginning the day of the self-referral.
At this time, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and Catawba County Schools do not have a drug testing policy in place for their student athletes.
“We currently do not have a drug testing policy nor are we in any kind of conversation at this point in time in discussion about having a drug testing policy,” Catawba County Schools District Athletic Director Deanna Taylor said. “I will be interested to see how Lincoln County’s policy plays out as it moves forward with its drug testing policy for its student athletes, both positively and negatively.”
According to Stover, funding for the random student athlete drug testing has not yet been budgeted for.
“The final school budget should be done in June,” Stover said. “It’ll be a long process between now and then. We have to see what the state and local government will give us.”