Kudos to Juneau for instituting drug testing policy

Posted: Monday, November 02, 2009

When I was nine years-old, I went to a birthday party where I did not know most of the kids there. As one of these strangers started picking on the birthday girl's brother, I told her to stop.

She responded with a very typical answer from children, and often even adults: "It's a free country; I can do whatever I want!"

While it is true that in the United States of America we are free to choose our actions, we are not free to choose the consequences that follow. As one who has spent the last twelve years in public school, I can confidently say that many of my peers do not yet fully understand this universal concept. As teenagers, we often expect to drive fast without getting our license taken away, to put off homework and still get good grades, to smoke pot and still play on the varsity team.

In an effort to make high school students more accountable for their actions, the Juneau School District Board of Education has recently instated mandatory drug testing for high school athletes. As an Associated Press article explains the policy: "students may be tested for alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, nicotine, opiates, oxycodone, methamphetamine, and steroids.... 15 percent of athletes from each school's individual sports program will be tested each week."

As I see it, this is an ideal policy.

High school athletes represent not only their schools, but their communities. As our locals areas have seen in the last two years, with both Soldotna and Kenai football teams taking state titles, our communities will rally around and pour resources into a team, asking only to be well represented in return. Do any businesses, organizations, or even individuals wish to be represented by a hung-over seventeen year old? Representing an entire community may feel like a large load to such a young man or woman, but this new policy is not only for those being represented, but for the teenagers themselves.

As young adults, our brains have not yet fully developed. What we see as flawless plans may in fact be completely irrational decisions. Decisions to drink, smoke, snort, inject, etc, are some of those choices. These substances have long term effects that we, with only instant gratification in mind, cannot perceive. They cloud our judgment, kill our brain cells, and, through addiction, rule our actions. Under the influence of these substances, we may commit crimes that we have to suffer for the rest of our lives. A young woman may kill a single mother by getting behind the wheel after a few drinks. A young man may wake up one afternoon not remembering the hurt he inflicted on a woman the night before. Unfortunately, these scenarios are not purely hypothetical; they happen on a regular basis. The Juneau School District is trying to help prevent the hurt and heartache that inevitably follow the abuse of these substances by catching users early and enforcing consequences.

The consequence, as described by the same AP article cited above, is as follows: "Student athletes who test positive will be suspended for the remainder of the current season but can appeal the suspension. They will not be penalized academically for a positive result and results will not be reported to law enforcement."

Again, this is an ideal way to deal with a serious problem. As young people, sports are often a huge part of our lives. To take that away is a severe punishment, but is not something that will permanently follow us as we apply for higher education or jobs the way a juvenile court record would. Taking away the opportunity to participate in sports is retribution enough to make someone think twice about their actions, but not ruin their chances at school or in the workforce. Juneau is providing a way to encourage a change in behavior while leaving plenty of opportunities for success.

No one can argue that the substances the Juneau School District is testing student athletes for are harmless. The medical field has proven time and time again that these chemicals have adverse effects on our bodies, and if one has any question to the emotional effects, he or she would have to only talk briefly with someone who has lost a family member or loved one due to the abuse of these recreational drugs. These destructive habits are most often formed when young, so that is the time that we should focus on preventing this devastating behavior. Personally, I would like to thank the Juneau School District Board of Education for their preemptive actions, and would encourage other school districts to take a long look at their own drug policies.

This article is the opinion of Hannah Romberg. Romberg is a senior at Soldotna High School.

Editor's note: This is part one of a point-counterpoint series looking at the drugs in schools and how school districts are handling them. A rebuttal will be printed Nov. 9.

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