It is clear Umatilla School District officials have students’ well-being in mind when considering policies in the district given recent, in-depth discussion on establishing a policy that would allow the district to randomly test students participating in athletics and extracurricular activities for drug use.

A School Board subcommittee recently concluded discussion on the idea and decided to recommend the School Board implement such a policy. The School Board will meet next week and consider the matter as a whole.

The School Board members on the subcommittee shared some very good reasons supporting a random drug-testing policy. The main consensus for creating such a policy is that it will serve as a deterrent for drug use. The concept is simple, students who are serious about participating in athletics or other extra-curricular activities may think twice about experimenting with drugs when given the opportunity, like at a party.

It is common for school districts to have policies stating students may not use alcohol or tobacco while participating in athletics or other school-sanctioned clubs or activities.

A random drug-testing policy is simply an extension of that, the idea being, if students choose to go out for athletics, band, drama club, whatever, they may be tested for drug-use. When students sign the “contract” with the school district agreeing to refrain from using alcohol or tobacco, if such drug-testing policy is created, they will also agree to be randomly tested for drug use.

If parents or students don’t wish to comply, for whatever reason, the student will not be able to participate.

The members of the work group considering a random drug-testing policy were very thorough in coming up with reasons for and against a policy.

They obviously gave the matter serious thought, for which they should be applauded.

They agreed such a policy is not intended to be punitive but, instead, identify drug use early so students can get the help they need. While there would be consequences to violating the drug policy, students would not necessarily be prohibited from ever competing or participating again. That is the best approach for such a policy.

Other reasons supporting such a policy is that students may feel more confident in turning down an offer to use an illicit substance. Peer pressure is a powerful thing, and it may be easier for students to say “No thanks, I’ll be risking my chance to play football, if I?do,” to a peer than just to say “no thanks.”

Among the reasons for not creating such a policy and spending money to implement a drug-testing program, work group members cited that district programs have been cut in the past because of funding challenges, and the school district has not had too many incidents involving drug-use on campus.

Those are valid points, and the question School Board members need to consider is whether dedicating funding to a random drug-testing program is a greater priority than spending that money to rebuild other programs. That is a tough question to answer, and one we hope the School Board has satisfactorily answered before making its decision.

Given the serious thought the subcommittee put into considering a drug-testing policy before making its recommendation, we can only hope the School Board will do the same.

Whatever the board decides, it is clear, student safety and health continues to be a priority in the Umatilla School District, which is always encouraging.

— Jessica Keller is the editor of the Hermiston Herald. She can be reached at jkeller@hermistonherald.com.

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