SUTHERLIN — Sutherlin students will have to pass a drug test beginning next year to participate in extracurricular activities, a requirement administrators hope motivates teens to stay clean.
Students in seventh through 12th grades who play sports or take part in activities such as FFA, Future Business Leaders of America and student government will be tested for marijuana and other illicit drugs, according to a policy adopted by the school board last month.
Sutherlin will be the first district in Douglas County to drug test students. Two other county school districts, South Umpqua and Winston-Dillard, are considering it.
The U.S. Supreme Court has twice narrowly rejected constitutional challenges to student drug testing. In a 1994 in a case that stemmed from the Vernonia School District in northwestern Oregon, the court ruled that random drug tests of student athletes does not violate the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures. In 2002, the court upheld a rural Oklahoma school district’s random drug testing of students in all extracurricular activities.
Still, the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups continue to oppose student drug testing, arguing that it’s costly, erodes trust between students and school staff, discourages students from participating in extracurricular activities and is ineffective at curbing drug abuse.
School officials say they believe testing will serve as a powerful deterrent to drug abuse. They reported receiving an overwhelmingly positive response from students, parents and community members.
Some Sutherlin High athletes and other students said they support the drug-testing policy because it will keep students healthy and reflect well on the school and its sports programs.
Sutherlin High’s athletic director, Josh Grotting, drafted the policy after Brookings and North Bend high schools, which play in the same league as Sutherlin, started drug testing student athletes. Sutherlin modeled its policy after the one adopted by North Bend.
Grotting said the policy is aimed at helping students resist using drugs.
“I think it’s an incentive to get around the peer pressure,” he said.
Starting next school year, the district will administer urine drug tests at the beginning of each sports season. Students will be tested again on a randomly determined date during the season.
The district will suspend students who fail a drug test from games or activities for two weeks, notify parents and require community service.
Students who test positive a second time for illegal drugs will be suspended from all extracurricular activities for the rest of the school year.
School officials won’t share drug-test results with the police or record them in student records.
Sutherlin High Principal Justin Huntley said drug tests, which the district estimates will cost between $6,000 and $7,000 a year, will definitely answer whether a student is doing drugs and needs help.
“It takes out that, ‘he said, she said piece,’ especially with marijuana. You can’t tell if a student is taking it,” Huntley said. “This is clean-cut. You either did it or you didn’t.”
The policy is lenient for the first offense to give students a chance to get clean, Huntley said. If the student is on a sports team, they will still be able to practice during the two-week suspension.
“The first (offense) is corrective. After that, it becomes a punishment,” Huntley said.
He said the policy is worth the expense. It will cost the district between $2 and $2.50 per test.
“You keep one kid from dropping out of school with this, and you pay for the policy,” Huntley said.
School resource officer Kurt Sorenson of the Sutherlin Police Department said that based on surveys he gives to high school students, marijuana use among Sutherlin teens has gone up over the past five years. He blamed the rise to a proliferation of medical marijuana.
“There is so much marijuana in the community that is available to kids,” he said. “That’s a problem.”
Sorenson said he believes the district’s drug-testing policy will deter drug use.
“The kids need to have a reason to say ‘no,’ ” he said.
Sutherlin School Board Chairman Paul Crawford said the board unanimously supported Grotting’s proposal to institute the drug-testing policy.
“This is just one more step to try to discourage drug use amongst students,” he said. “It’s like all policy, it can be reversed if it doesn’t work out, but it was something we thought we should try.”
The biggest qualm board members had with the policy was that it would keep students from joining extracurricular activities, Crawford said. “We didn’t want this to be a discouragement.”
South Umpqua High School Principal Kristi McGree said the South Umpqua School District has drafted a drug-testing policy that would be similar to Sutherlin’s. The school board likely will make a decision on the policy this summer, she said.
The policy’s main purpose would be helping students stay clean, McGree said.
“We’re not trying to say, ‘Gotcha!’ ” she said. “It’s about prevention and assistance. We’ll meet with parents and identify risk factors, what kind of intervention that student needs.”
McGree said the district has concerns about the amount of peer pressure students encounter. Every year, South Umpqua High seniors survey their peers, she said. The results startled her.
“I was struck by how many influences there are out there to use (drugs),” she said.
Winston-Dillard School District Superintendent Kevin Miller said the district is drafting a drug-testing policy. Like at other districts, Winston-Dillard teachers and administrators worry about rising drug use, he said.
“It’s a problem throughout the state and in our community,” Miller said. “It’s getting really difficult as a community to control the use of substances.”
Roseburg School District Superintendent Larry Parsons said the district may someday institute a drug-testing policy, but has no immediate plans to do so.
“We’ll always consider it, but I don’t think it will be any time soon,” he said.
Roseburg High School Athletic Director Russ Bolin said the district discourages drug use with a code of conduct for students who participate in extracurricular activities. Under the code, any student suspected of using alcohol, tobacco or other controlled substances will be given a hearing with an administrator and could face suspension from extracurricular activities.
“Our community, we’re fine with the code of conduct we have right now,” Bolin said. “It’s worked well for us.”
North Bend School District Superintendent BJ Hollensteiner said the district started enforcing a drug-testing policy at the beginning of last school year.
She said she’s pleased with the policy and believes it’s helped curb student drug use.
“Most of the comments I’ve got have been positive, and I think it’s made a difference,” Hollensteiner said. “It’s raised the bar on expectations.”
Sutherlin High School student athlete Kylee Carson, 16, said she believes Sutherlin’s drug-testing policy will be worthwhile.
“When you’re on a team, you kind of make a commitment as a team,” said Carson, a junior who plays soccer and basketball. “You trust your teammates to do the right thing. You’ll see the respect you get from your teammates if they’re not doing drugs. You can trust each other more knowing that you’re really committed to the team. It’s like reassurance for the players.”
Baylee Merrifield, 16, who plays soccer and basketball and runs track, said she supports the policy, but has noticed not all her peers agree.
“You can kind of tell the groups that aren’t for it because they get all defensive about it,” said Merrifield, a sophomore. “They come up with the dumbest arguments because you know they’re against drug testing. Would you rather give up sports or give up drugs?”
Junior Jace Martineau, 17, plays football, basketball and baseball. He said he believes the drug-testing policy is a good idea.
“I think it’s a positive thing. I think it’s not only going to help the school, but the kids as individuals,” Martineau said. “I think it’s easier for the coaches, not having to worry about problems outside sports.”
The policy could be great incentive for students to stay off drugs, said Ricki Mock, 16, a sophomore who runs cross-country and track and plays volleyball and basketball.
“For some of the kids that are involved in sports, it will hopefully get them away from drugs and lead them on a better path,” she said.
Junior Ashleigh Hanewickel, 18, who doesn’t play sports, said the drug-testing policy makes sense if it gets students the help they need.
“The kid can have a chance to talk to somebody instead of keeping it in by doing drugs,” she said.
Senior Daniel Barroso, 16, said he felt conflicted on whether student drug testing was a good idea.
“A lot of people think it’s an invasion of privacy,” he said. “Unfortunately, teenagers today are not responsible so maybe it’s a good thing.”
Anna Stanzione, 17, a junior, said if the policy brings down drug use it will improve overall student health.
“I think it’s a good idea because you shouldn’t be wrecking your body at this age,” she said.
Student drug testing is becoming much more accepted, Huntley said. In the workplace, it’s mainstream, he said.
“We get calls all the time from community members that say, ‘I want (to hire) a kid who is dependable, who can pass a drug test?’ ” Huntley said.
The drug-testing policy will teach students to take responsibility for their actions, he said. They will learn that to get and keep a job they may have to take a drug test, Huntley said.
“They understand, that is part of the workplace,” he said. “It’s part of corporate culture.”
When Grotting worked for Central Linn School District in Halsey, it instituted drug tests. In the first five years it was in place, the policy helped between 15 and 20 students get help for their drug use, Grotting said. About five students decided not to participate in extracurricular activities because of the policy, he said.
“In the end, it was better for coaches, it was better for kids,” Grotting said. “We just had a lot less problems we had to deal with.”
Sutherlin’s drug-testing policy will reflect well on Sutherlin High because people will know students are held to a high standard, he said.
“I think it will be really positive for the school and the outlook people have on it,” Grotting said.
• You can reach reporter Inka Bajandas at 541-957-4202 or email at email@example.com.