OCTOBER 6, 1997
Local residents met at the Bothell High School gym to voice their opinions on the Northshore School District study allowing random drug and alcohol testing for athletes. The issue brought out full media attention.
Meeting shows most parents oppose Northshore student-athlete drug testing
Others say it shouldn't be just for jocks
by Andrew Walgamott
BOTHELL--"When it comes to drug testing, just say no." That was Frank Dellino's message to a panel of Northshore School District officials at a Sept. 29 community forum. Dellino, a counselor at Skyview Junior High, and approximately 150 other parents, students and community members gathered at the Bothell High School gymnasium to voice their opinions to district staff on mandatory and random drug testing of students. Northshore has been mulling over drug and alcohol testing for a year since local parents suggested screening athletes to discourage use. Currently, the district is compiling public opinion on the issue.
With television news cameras rolling, the eight-member panel took copious notes on Dellino's and other speakers' opinions. Panel members included principals from Woodinville, Bothell and Inglemoor high schools as well as officials from Canyon Park and Northshore junior highs, and representatives from the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association and Drug Proof, a testing laboratory. Reactions captured by the panel will help shape a Nov. 12 recommendation to the school board on whether or not to test athletes for drugs and alcohol.
Most comments negative
Of 33 different speakers, 23 intimated they were opposed to testing. Some speakers focused on the cost of the program in terms of testing and potential litigation. Northshore estimates testing would cost $15-$25 with an annual cost to the district of $30,000. Approximately 2,200 students district-wide participate in interscholastic activities. Mark Licata told the panel to put the money that would be spent on drug testing into classrooms instead.
On the opposite side, Inglemoor High School math teacher Judy Cheney spoke in support of the cost of drug testing even if it helped only one child. "If your kid's not worth $30,000 to you, that's sad," Cheney said. Others pointed out legal concerns. "We as citizens need to stop the continual erosion of our constitutional rights," Tom Little said.
The American Civil Liberties Union has said that testing would be a violation of privacy clauses in the Washington Constitution, Article 7, section 7 which prohibits suspicionless searches of people. The ACLU has also said that if the district implements a testing policy, they would file a lawsuit when a litigant stepped forward.
Several at the meeting seemed to be revving up for just that outcome. "Don't you dare test my daughter; there will be litigation," vowed Dewey Sage, father of two Bothell High students. Outside the gymnasium Michael Simmons, a father of two Leota Junior High boys, said the ACLU would back him if he filed suit against the district. He said he opposes drug testing because it presumes students are guilty. "Freedom is the issue. If my son was staggering around cross-eyed, I'd expect them to test him. But he's not," Simmons said.
Other participants spoke to the fear of authoritarian governments.
Sage compared setting aside individual rights for the common good to what happened in Nazi Germany, communist Russia and McCarthyism. But David Ashbaugh, with a daughter at Bothell High, framed the issue as a health and safety matter and encouraged people to look beyond the "drug testing bogeyman" others brought up in totalitarian comparisons.
"What we're saying is, we'll hide you behind the law," Ashbaugh said, adding the panel shouldn't be afraid of legal action. Athletes already subject to tests A small contingent supported drug testing, and not just of student-athletes. "We have a drug problem in our communities. We have a drug problem in our country. We should start somewhere," Sandy Laurence, a mother of two, said. That somewhere appears to be with jocks.
A 1995 U.S. Supreme Court case, Acton vs. Vernonia School District, found student-athletes have diminished rights of privacy. Eric Barnum, director of student services and athletics, said students already conform to WIAA, KingCo and Northshore rules when playing sports. Tyler Larson, an Inglemoor tennis player, said the district needed a way to enforce Student Athletic Codes which say students will abstain from drugs and alcohol. With a son at Bothell High, Greg Staples said, "I'm proud our student-athlete will be the first one to do this."
According to a district-provided example of drug testing, the program begins with a pre-participation screening. Only students with negative findings would play. Random urine samples would be collected throughout the season. A Medical Resource officer would receive test results and contact students and parents about results. A positive test would bar students from athletics, though no other action would be taken.
Audience members heard from Burlington-Edison school district officials. Near Mount Vernon, Burlington-Edison has tested all high school students involved in after-school activities for drugs and alcohol since 1996, according to Dr. Paul Chaplik, school superintendent.
"We believe this test is an accountability measure," Chaplik said.
Nick Johnson, a senior athlete at Burlington-Edison, said drug testing was "the best thing that happened a our school. I think every school should have it."
Audience electronically polled
Audience members were asked to register their opinions on drug and alcohol use via handheld electronic polling devices. The poll found strong opinions on both sides of the issue. On a scale of 1 to 6 (1 being 'strongly disagree' and 6 being 'strongly agree'), 47 percent strongly disagreed with screening students before they turned out for a sport. About 31 percent strongly agreed with drug screening would-be athletes.
When asked if drug use would be reduced if athletes were randomly tested, 52 percent strongly disagreed it would, while only 22 percent strongly agreed it would. Asked if it would be easier for kids to say no to drugs or alcohol during a sports season if there was testing, 53 percent say yes it would, while 43 percent said it wouldn't. Four percent weren't sure.
But, when asked if students themselves should be required to pay up to $30 for tests, 87 percent said no. One audience member was overheard to say, "Is that a joke?" Community members who weren't able to attend the meeting have a chance to phone in their feelings to the same questions. The district is conducting a 16 question anonymous poll through October 13. Call 1-800-214-5830, poll number 4580, and vote.
Data compilation next
Barnum said he was "disappointed in the attendance" at the meeting, the first of two Northshore held to gauge public opinion. A second was held for students October 6, also at the Bothell High gym.
After the first meeting, Barnum admitted that speakers were overwhelmingly against drug testing. He also noted that the issue brought with it media glare.
"I think the interest of the print and electronic media in this seems to be much higher than community interest by attendance," he said.
Northshore would be the first major school district in the Puget Sound area to drug and alcohol test athletes. Besides Burlington-Edison, Granite Falls schools test for use.
Now begins the process of compiling information for the Nov. 12 recommendation to the school board. Input will be collected through Oct. 13. Besides the telepoll, residents can write letters to Barnum at 18315 Bothell Way N.E. Bothell, WA, 98011.