By Margie Wuebker
MARIA STEIN -- Student athletes may face random drug testing in the future as the Marion Local Schools board of education took a first step toward implementing the new policy -- reportedly the first in the county -- Tuesday night.
Board members unanimously approved first reading of a proposed policy that says student athletes and their parents would be required to sign a form consenting to random drug testing. Anyone refusing to sign would be deemed ineligible to participate in sports. Such testing could occur prior to the sports season as well as weekly during the course of a season.
The resolution faces two more readings prior to the final vote. If approved, Superintendent Andrew Smith indicated implementation would take place next school year.
Smith believes the policy could be extended to students involved in other extracurricular activities at some point in the future.
"It provides another way to determine whether someone violates the athletic code of conduct," Smith added. "I can foresee applications (of the policy) to other activities here at Marion Local." Smith spoke with school officials in Van Wert, where a similar drug testing policy had been in place until it fell victim to budget constraints.
Smith plans to seek costs from companies who offer such services, including the random selection by computer of those to be tested. The larger Van Wert district paid approximately $25,000 per year for the testing program. It was noted similar testing for bus drivers costs Marion Local roughly $350 per quarter.
Up to 10 percent of in-season athletes could be tested each week during the school year. They would be notified by the athletic director with the urine tests taking place the same day.
In addition to random selection, a student athlete also faces testing if the athletic director, building principal or superintendent have reasonable suspicion of a violation.
Urine samples would be sent to an independent laboratory, where they would be tested for the presence of amphetamines, cocaine, marijuana or any other drugs the district specifies. The superintendent would receive results via mail or telephone.
In the event of a positive reading, a technician would draw another sample from the collected urine for a retest. The student would be suspended from athletics for the remainder of the season in the event the second test is also positive, the proposed policy says.
"None of the sanctions involve suspension or expulsion from the curricular program," Smith said.
The proposed policy clearly notes school officials are not to refer positive test results to law enforcement authorities. Those receiving notification of such results include the superintendent, building principal, athletic director and head coach. Results would be maintained until the student graduates or leaves the school district.
A recommendation from the school's athletic council sparked the policy. In addition to the superintendent and the athletic director, council members include building principals, coaches and the Athletic Boosters president.
"To the best of my knowledge, Marion would be the only school district in the area with such a policy," Smith said. "We simply want to protect our kids from harm."