School Drug Testing: Pass to Play or Only for Cause?

By: Gordon Boyd
By: Gordon Boyd

Knoxville (WVLT) - Athletes at two central Kentucky high schools will have to prove they're drug-free, to play.

Texas, Florida, and New Jersey now require testing all high school athletes for steroids.

The feds are spending more than $1.5 million on random drug testing.

But volunteer TV’s Gordon body tells us such tests won't be the rule in Tennessee.

At least, not in public schools.

In Kentucky, a bad pre-screen means you miss a fifth of your games.

Three strikes, you're out.

But in Tennessee, you can't drug test without cause.

Win or lose: they're often the public face of their schools.

“Athletes, often-times are role models,” says college student Lorato Powell.

A higher profile, which, many believe, demands higher standards.

“You should work hard It should be an area that you should excel in and be drug free,” Powell says.

“I would feel a lot better as a parent knowing that, you know, he's playing with a team where the focus was on the kids rather than the sports themselves,” says Diane Winter, a mother of a fifth grader.

“We do not do random drug testing in Knox County of students,” says Russ Oaks, Knox County Schools spokesman.

In fact, Tennessee's Attorney General says state law forbids it, writing last month that Public Schools can't test athletes or any other students without “reasonable indications” those students may have used alcohol or drugs or be under the influence.

“That's too ambiguous to say probable cause, that's gonna be up to the discretion of a coach or a school system, and that could vary from place to place,” says former high school athlete Anthony Buckland.

Tennessee law says reasonable indication or cause to test could include drugs found during a locker search, or use on school property directly observed or reported.

But only if districts put in writing a policy that bans drug use and warns students they could be tested.

“That policy, in short says it will not occur, on school grounds, during school hours or with any associated school activity, either on school grounds or off,” Oaks explains.

A policy, spokesman Russ Oaks says, generally handed out on the first day of practice or class.

Still, some say athletes ought to have to pass, to play.

“It ensures the students participating are not involved in drugs,” says Powell.

“Their standard can predict what others might do, so maybe hitting a target right there, the bottom students might follow them, and maybe not do drugs at all,” Buckland adds.

Tennessee's law is grounded in the Fourth Amendment, as protection from unreasonable government searches and seizures.

But it also says the drug test ban applies to public schools, implying private or parochial schools could require tests to play, or even stay in school.

The other gray area: steroids or other so-called performance enhancers. Prescription steroids are considered controlled substances, drugs. The law doesn't cover the others, leaving schools free to decide for themselves.


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