School drug testing: The punishment should fit the crime

Posted: Sunday, September 06, 2009

The debate over whether high schools in Juneau should test student athletes for drugs has subsided, but now the Juneau School Board must decide what to do with its offenders.

Several coaches have said strict punishments must be implemented if students are to understand that drug use won't be tolerated. We agree, but the punishment still should fit the crime.

Under the current rules, a student who fails a drug test would be suspended for the entire season. When drug testing begins next month, athletes will be checked for alcohol and tobacco along with harder drugs (including cocaine, heroin, marijuana and OxyContin). Punishments should vary depending on the severity of the drug and the overall situation.

Few students will leave high school without at least trying a beer or cigarette once. Most would call that normal curiosity. Smoking a time-released opiate through a straw isn't normal, however. The severity of punishments should note the difference between the two. We don't punish jaywalkers the same as reckless drivers. The same principle also applies here.

In the most severe of cases, a season-long suspension may be necessary, but not every failed drug test will be a worst-case scenario. Adopting a policy in which students could earn their way back into a sport would be better than the zero- tolerance policy that some coaches are pushing for.

The Alaska School Activities Association imposes a 10-day suspension for first offenses, of which half of that time can be eliminated by enrolling in an educational course. The school district should look into adopting a similar model, and in doing so should seek input from coaches.

Perhaps the best solution, however, would be for the school board to determine minimum punishments to be applied but to also allow coaches to extend an athlete's suspension. Ultimately, it's the coaches and not the school board that decide who plays and who rides the pine. Just because an athlete is allowed to participate in a sport doesn't mean they have to play come game time.

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