Random drug tests coming for student athletes

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If you’re going to play high school sports in Beaufort County, you better be ready to be drug tested.

It’s a weird thing to say and a crazy concept to comprehend for many parents and student advocates around the county, but starting this fall, student athletes will be randomly tested at all Beaufort County high schools.

The Beaufort County School Board voted in June to institute random drug tests for the 2015-16 school year. Weeks later, the Board decided to increase the number of tests administered, so now more than 2,700 tests will be given to the 2,500 student athletes across the district.

Bluffton High School athletic director Dave Adams has been mentoring student athletes for close to four decades. As much as hates to admit it, Adams said the tests are a necessary precaution in today’s peer-pressure-packed society.

“It’s a sign of the times and we need to adjust,” Adams said. “Superintendent (Dr. Jeffrey) Moss had done it in North Carolina and had success with it, so at the end of the day, it’s an inconvenience for some and worst case, a means to get students struggling with drug issues the help they need.”

The testing is set to begin in October across the district, where 38 student athletes from each school will be tested each month. Reaction to the move, which will come at an expense of $40,000 per year, are mixed. An Island Packet poll conducted in June found 55 percent of the 620 readers polled against the drug testing, with 41 percent in favor of the plan.

Adams said that much of the dissent at first was due to fear from parents that their kids were being unfairly targeted. He said as he and his coaches met with athletes and their parents before the fall sports season began, both students and parents were more willing to try it.

“I saw a very favorable opinion. There’s concerns, for sure, but we want our athletes to be role models and this is another place where they can be leaders,” Adams said. “It’s not a punitive test, it’s not a gotcha thing. It’s a means of combatting a real problem in schools today.”

What Adams and other school officials like most about the policy is the three-step approach to helping students who may test positive.

After a first failed test, the student is deemed ineligible to compete for 365 days. But they can regain eligibility by receiving an assessment by a licensed substance abuse professional and completing at least one treatment session within 10 days of the positive test.

The student then needs to pass another random test within 90 days of the failed test.

After a second violation, a student has to complete a substance abuse program and pass another drug test to regain eligibility. A third fail would lead to a 365-day ineligibility, with the student needing to complete a substance abuse program and pass a drug test to be eligible the next year.

The testing will spread to all extracurricular activities in 2016 and to students looking to park on campus in 2017. School board officials have discussed moving those time tables up to possible begin all phases next school year.

Moss has also discussed having coaches part of the testing. Teachers are not allowed to be tested by law unless there is suspicion of drug use. But coaches who hold commercial licenses to drive buses would be eligible to be tested.

While Adams understands some parents may feel their kids are being targeted, he and other officials see an unexpected positive side effect here.

“There is so much pressure on these kids today to fit in, so much access to bad situations that we never dreamed was there,” he said. “This gives the kids a way to get out of those situations, to say, ‘No, I play sports, I can’t do that.’”

Two other school districts in South Carolina are known to do similar testing, Lexington One began last year and Lexington Two has done the testing since 2000.

The urine tests are screened for narcotics, not performance-enhancing drugs. Adams said he and his staff have been trained on how to administer the tests – how to gather the students and how to house them until their name is called. An independent drug testing company administers the tests and transport the samples for testing.

The one component that even Adams admits needs to be worked out is helping students once they are found to fail a test. The district does not want to endorse private businesses, so no specific list of drug counselors or substance abuse programs in the area have been provided to the schools.

While studies have shown that a very small percentage of students will ever test positive, schools following through on getting those students help will be the key.

“We’re definitely nervous about that component,” Adams said. “We need to have a very clear path to getting these kids and their parents help. We don’t want to see that first failed test, but we need to be ready if and when it happens.”