If a new committee has its way, Whitefish High School will become the second in the state, after Hardin High School, to require students participating in extra-curricular activities to submit to random drug testing.
A current draft of the policy—which was drawn up by a committee of district medical staff, teachers, coaches, administrators and students—would ban students from participating in competitions for 15 days if they test positive for controlled substances. The athletes would also be required to attend a substance abuse resistance program.
A second positive test would ban any participation in extra-curricular activities for 40 days, and require attendance in another substance abuse program. A third positive test would ban the student from extra-curricular activities permanently.
At an April 8 community forum packed with about 150 students, parents, teachers and coaches, the committee heard two hours of public comment on the policy, with sentiments split evenly for and against.
One student told the committee, “I don’t personally feel this is the best way to help our students…It’s just taking one more thing away from those kids who are just barely hanging on to something good in their lives.”
Another student said he quit soccer because of pressure from his teammates to use drugs and alcohol. The threat of random testing would be helpful, he said, because it would give students an out if peers tried to pressure them into indulging.
Everyone did agree that there is a drug problem in Whitefish. According to a survey of Whitefish High School students taken last spring, 47 percent of respondents had tried marijuana one or more times, compared to a statewide average of 39 percent. Parents, coaches and students agreed that the survey probably understates the problem.
But studies on the effectiveness of random drug testing for high school athletes seem inconclusive at best. One of the most recent, an October 2007 study by Oregon Health and Science University, did not show a statistically significant change in drug use in schools where such testing occurred. In fact, it showed that risk factors such as “poorer attitudes toward school” increased.
The Whitefish School Board, which makes the ultimate decision on the policy, will hear more public comment on the issue at an additional meeting April 22.