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Watauga School Board To Vote on Random Drug-Testing Policy For WHS Student-Athletes at Tonight’s Meeting

Editor’s Note: The Watauga County Board of Education will vote on a policy that, if passed, would permit random drug testing on student-athletes attending Watauga High School at tonight’s school board meeting. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. and is held at the Gragg Education Center on Pioneer Trail. See the meeting’s packet here

Read about the draft policy below and discussions made at July’s school board meeting. 

Watauga School Board Considers Random Drug-Testing Policy For WHS Student-Athletes, Expansion to Other EC Activities, Parking Passes is ‘Goal’ for 2014-15 Year

By Jesse Wood

July 9, 2013. After the first reading of a draft policy on Monday that would permit random drug testing of student-athletes attending Watauga High School, the Watauga County Board of Education is expected to vote on the athletics’ substance abuse policy at its August meeting.

While introducing a draft policy to board members at Monday’s school board meeting, WHS Principal Marshall Gasperson said the policy has been “a long time coming.”

If the policy is eventually approved, it would be effective for the upcoming school year. Athletes and their parents/guardians would be required to sign consent forms.

 “If they don’t sign, they don’t play,” Gasperson said. 

The Watauga County Board of Education would foot the bill for the costs of randomly testing at least five percent of all athletes annually.

The policy would include testing for controlled substances, including steroids, alcohol and “for reasonable suspicion/cause of drug use by any athlete,” according to a memo in the meeting’s packet.

 “The purpose of the Drug Screening for Student Athletes Program is to identify student athletes who are using drugs in order that assistance can be provided to them through counseling, education and treatment. The drug screening is not intended to punish students or to eliminate them from participation in interscholastic sports,” the policy reads. “It is also believed that this program will help motivate our young people to reject peer pressure placed on them to experiment with or become involved in drug use.”

On the first page of the policy in all caps, it reads: “Positive test results will not result in suspension from school or notification of legal authorities.”

Results of the drug tests, which typically would consist of urine samples, would remain confidential. Those privy to the results are the personnel director for Watauga County Schools, the student athlete, parent or guardian, athletic director, principal, head coach and superintendent or his or her designee.

On the first positive test, the student athlete and parent/guardian would be notified and a 15-day minimum ban from the athletic program would ensue. A retest would occur after the 15-day period. If the student athlete passes the test, the student would then be reinstated into the athletic program after the student and guardian signs a liability form.

If a second positive test occurs at any time during his/her WHS sports career, the student would be banned for participation in athletics for a minimum of 30 days, and if a third positive test occurs, the student would be banned from participating in sports for a full-calendar year.

“After the third positive test, it shall be assumed that the student athlete has a serious drug problem and reinstatement to participate in interscholastic sports at Watauga High School during subsequent years will require the student athlete to present certification [from a licensed substance abuse professional] showing that he/she is drug free,” the policy reads.

Attorney Dean Shatley, who represents Watauga County Schools, said numerous school systems already have a similar policy. He mentioned counties Cherokee, Haywood, Madison, Yancey, Avery and slew of Western North Carolina school systems have similar policies in place.

Gasperson said that the “goal” for the following year is to include other extracurricular activities, such as the chess club and DECA, and for those seeking parking passes.

“Our recommendation has typically been when starting out, start out with smaller groups. Work out the kinks and go from there,” Shatley said after the topic of potential expansion of the drug-testing program was broached.

He also noted that random drug testing of school personnel – aside from bus drivers and vehicle operators – is not allowed in North Carolina; however, suspicion-based testing of school personnel is legal, Shatley said.

Gasperson said it would be preferable to adopt the policy on Monday and skip the second reading. He also said that parents he had been in contact with spoke favorably of the potential adoption of the drug-testing program.

No board members expressed opposition to the drug-testing policy on Monday.

Delora Hodges, vice chair of the school board, said, “I think parent education is going to be huge.”

While Hodges said she wasn’t opposed to the program, she noted that she didn’t want to skip the second reading of the policy so as to give time for public notification and input.

The board is expected to vote on the policy at its August meeting. 

Click here to view policy.