August 2015

Line in the Sand: Mandatory Drug Testing

Author: Barry Kaufman & Courtney Hampson | Photographer: Photography by Anne

Barry Kaufman

As my kids age, I’m finding that I have a tricky relationship with the powers that be in our schools. On the one hand, my kids are receiving an excellent education from a group of teachers and administrators that really, truly and deeply care about each of these kids and have an abundance of passion for teaching. On the other hand, I was kicked out of high school for a month and almost didn’t make it into college because I was caught with a toy BB gun in my car when I was 17. This toy didn’t fire, and was largely held together by superglue, but its presence under old Taco Bell bags in my car on school property was all a bunch of rubber stampers needed to potentially railroad my entire future. Not that I’m bitter or anything.

Point is, that experience, as you can imagine, hasn’t given me the most even of keels when it comes to school administrators and the decisions they make. So when Courtney raised the issue of drug testing in Beaufort County schools, my knee-jerk reaction was to be against it. After all, this is the same bureaucratic mob-think I was a victim of—a philosophy of blanket policy that allows administrators to hide behind a rulebook while they shut the door on some poor kid’s future.

Now that I’ve had time to cool down and re-think my knee-jerk reaction, I still feel like this is a philosophy of blanket policy that allows administrators to hide behind a rulebook while they shut the door on some poor kid’s future.

To begin, let’s address the obvious question: Why student athletes? There are actually two answers to that question, and neither one makes a lick of sense. The first is that, by their own admission, the district can’t mandate random drug testing for the entire student population. They can only test those students who enjoy “special school privileges” such as participating in athletics. Oh, and soon that will extend to students who participate in extracurricular activities. And those who have parking passes. Essentially, every student who does things other than drugs. Those are the ones you’re testing in the hopes of catching one or two with some pot in their pee, so you can completely mess up their entire life from that point forward—for their own good. Brilliant.

The second answer to the question of why they are testing student athletes comes from the always nebulous “many people” who were noted in a recent Island Packet article as stating that student athletes are considered role models by their peers. So, naturally, we should make sure these kids know exactly how many of their role models are secretly drug fiends. All of our role models are secretly (or blatantly) on drugs, so why should our kids be any different?

All that aside, our student athletes are considered role models by precisely none of their peers. They are probably considered somewhere between “that kid who’s really good at sports” to most of the student population and possibly “that jock,” to the indoor kids.

Respected, crushed upon, despised, whatever. The one thing I promise you they are not is held up on any kind of pedestal.

And that’s not a knock on student athletes. The handful I’ve met seem like great kids. They’re just not a role model to any of their peers, because high schoolers are entirely too narcissistic to ever think anyone else is any kind of role model.

In fact, if these students, athletes or otherwise, have any role models in their lives, it’s their parents. And guess what, parents? If anyone should be making sure these kids are staying off drugs, it’s you. That’s your job.

Look at the first three bullet points in the parental job description: Feed them, teach them right from wrong, keep them off the pipe. I promise you the average school administrator has more bullet points than you do. It’s not their job to keep your kids off drugs.

As much as it pains me to impose any logic on the actions of school administrators, given my history, I will admit that their hearts are in the right place on this one. If our schools are overrun with drugs, then they are almost forced to take whatever actions they legally can to root it out.

But parents, that’s your job. I know I’m going to do whatever I can to keep my kids off drugs for as long as I can. But first I’ll make sure they stay away from the real threat: broken toy BB guns. 

Courtney Hampson

If it wasn’t for mandatory drug testing, Bernice wouldn’t have tested positive for anabolic steroids and a low grade beaver tranquilizer. Troop 417 wouldn’t have been eliminated from regionals. Patches O’Houlihan wouldn’t have been killed by two tons of irony. Lance Armstrong wouldn’t have had the opportunity to give Peter La Fleur a pep-talk. And, Average Joe’s Gym wouldn’t have won the American Dodgeball Association of America (ADAA) Championship. I think we can all agree that was the greatest sports victory of all time. And by “of all time,” I mean of movies starring Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller.
But, I digress.

In June, the Beaufort County School District approved a new policy requiring that student athletes must consent to random drug testing to participate in district sports. The policy applies to high school athletes and middle school athletes who play on high school teams.
The district estimates that there will be 2,650 high school athletes this coming school year, and testing will begin this August. Substances for which students will be tested include alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, opiates, barbiturates, amphetamines, Valium, Darvon, PCP and other drugs.

But, the policy isn’t limited to student athletes only. Testing of students who participate in any extracurricular activity will begin in August 2016, and testing of students with school parking permits will begin in August 2017. Even better, individual parents can elect to have their children participate in the program. Now, these are parents I want to meet. Talk about taking the bull by the horns.

While the decision is not a response to a specific incident, according to district spokesman Jim Foster, “There was just a sense that this was a challenge we were having to deal with on an ongoing basis.”

The goal of the testing, according to the district is to identify students struggling with substance-abuse to provide them with services and counseling. More than 100 of the district’s 10,400 middle and high school students faced disciplinary action for alcohol and drug-related violations during the 2014-15 school year.

Some parents are upset. And this surprises me. I must insert my standard disclaimer: I am not a parent and therefore unable to apply some brilliant parenting logic. Instead, I am going to go with common sense. I think as a parent, I would want to know what was going on with my child. I’m not going to wave the infringing on my rights flag when it comes to my offspring (who have four legs and are covered with fur, but for the purpose of this column, let’s just pretend shall we) and drug or alcohol use or abuse.

If your child is innocent, what is the harm? If your child is considering drugs, this could be a good deterrent. If your child is using drugs or alcohol, don’t you want to know? Is it because the topic is substance abuse? A topic so taboo that no one likes to talk about, yet one in five families will deal with it. May I remind you that alcohol and drug dependence remains the largest problem facing our country?

Random drug testing is just that: random. It isn’t accusatory. It is meant to be preventative. And in the case of high school kids, I am okay with scaring the you-know-what out of them, and pardon the Nancy Reagan-ism, encouraging them to just say no.

Now, if you’re not in agreement, think back to high school and that group of kids who were always smoking pot in the parking lot. Where are they today? According to my social media feed, they are still smoking pot in the parking lot.

What’s wrong with a little dose of reality, while still in high school? Turns out, high school athletes who become college athletes will be subject to drug testing. And guess what? Over 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies drug test candidates and/or current employees.

I don’t think the goal here is to prevent the football team from having a full roster on a Friday night. Instead, “This is focused more on helping students than on punishing them,” said Superintendent Jeff Moss. “Student health and safety is our No. 1 priority. Substance abuse damages the physical and emotional health of students as well as their academic performance. And in my experience, school districts that have implemented this type of policy have seen positive results in reducing abuse and in creating a school culture that is more resistant to it.”

Welcome to the real world kids. 

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