By Margie Wuebker
MARIA STEIN -- Marion Local Schools board of education took another step Tuesday night toward becoming the first area school to implement a random drug testing policy for student athletes.
The board unanimously approved second reading of the proposed policy and requested representatives of companies providing such services come to a future meeting to discuss the random selection process. The third and final reading will come after the presentations take place at a work session or the January meeting.
"We have a lot of questions and not a lot of answers," said board member Greg Garmann. "I think the board is in agreement we want some kind of testing."
Fellow members Tess Mescher, Charlie Otte and Larry Reichert nodded in agreement. Board member Ron Winner was not in attendance.
One company, Sport Safe Inc., has proposed a two-tier testing fee -- $25 per student for a test to determine the presence of certain drugs and $29 per student for a test that checks for those drugs as well as ecstasy. Another proposal would provide the school with necessary supplies for urine tests with a designated person, such as a school nurse, to perform the procedure. Although the cost is $10 per student, the board quickly sidestepped the proposal.
"That puts someone in our system on the hot seat," Otte said. "I would rather have someone on the outside perform the test."
Superintendent Andy Smith indicated tests can differentiate between actual drug usage and secondary exposure such as in the case of marijuana.
Implementation of drug testing has been cited as another means of determining whether someone violates the school's athletic code of conduct. Athletes as well as cheerleaders sign the pact prior to each season.
Smith explained board action would involve adopting a policy that governs administration of the testing. Under guidelines drafted by the board, up to 10 percent of in-season athletes could be tested each week with a computer randomly selecting the pool of candidates.
Visitor Terry Moeller asked whether drugs were a big problem in the district. Smith responded that drug-sniffing dogs have been brought into school after hours to check for contraband. The animals, trained to hit on drugs as well as lingering smells, turned up nothing. The school could bring the dogs back to check vehicles in the parking lot at some point in the future.
"I'm tired of all the rumors," Garmann added. "Get the drugs out."
Moeller asked whether cheerleaders and band members would be subject to random testing as well.
"A lot depends on legalities," the superintendent added. "We have to sort out what we can and cannot do."
Garmann smiled before pointing out, "If we include athletes, trainers, cheerleaders and band members in this policy, it would involve the entire school."
Moeller also wondered whether parents could ask to have their children randomly tested as a means of determining drug usage. Smith, who will check out the details with school district attorneys, pointed out that students could not be suspended from academics in the event of positive test results. The only suspension would involve participation in sports or other areas to be determined.
If approved, the policy would go into effect at the beginning of the 2005-2006 school year.