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Board tables plan to give Ashland team drug tests

ASHLAND — The football coach of the Ashland Grizzlies wants to perform weekly drug tests on his high school team in the hopes of curbing marijuana and alcohol use among players.

But the School Board didn't agree with his idea Monday, voting 5-0 to table the matter for two months — by which time the football season will be over.

Coach Charlie Hall, who also teaches physical education, said the decision was frustrating.

"I felt like they needed to make a decision and put their name on it.," Hall said. "I can't table a decision on a Friday night. We've got to play it out."

None of the board members expressed support for the idea during Monday night's meeting.

Board Chairman Keith Massie said he was concerned about keeping positive test results confidential.

"I would say we need some legal advice," he said. "I'm concerned about risk and liability and what if something leaks."

Board Member Eva Skuratowicz, who is a social scientist, questioned whether a testing program would solve the problem.

"People are saying that there's a small but growing body of evidence that drug testing is not an effective deterrent to drug use," she said.

Other board members said the district needs to work with students and change the culture of the school rather than impose a testing program.

Four parents spoke during the meeting, two in favor of testing and two opposed.

Reena Hakes, whose son plays on the team, said, "I'm disappointed. I feel like I lost ground tonight and that this would have been my one chance to get a grasp" on the pressures her son is facing.

Hall had asked the School Board to allow the football team to undergo random urine analysis tests on a voluntary basis.

"I'm just trying to create an environment and culture in our team where there's respect for the team, for your bodies, and you're as alert and as responsive as you can be so you're able to play the game as best you can," Hall said last week.

The move came after two players were caught with drugs off campus this summer, before the season started. Hall gave the players a two-game suspension. If they had been caught on campus, they would have been suspended for one-third of the season — which would have hurt the entire team, Hall said.

Hall said last week he wanted to be proactive about curbing drug use.

"I just felt like as a coach I'd like to be able to do something or at least send a message to them," he said.

Hall said he had already received signatures of approval for the testing from all parents of players except for one.

Under the proposal, parents or guardians would still need to approve the testing for their student, Superintendent Juli Di Chiro said last week.

"It's all 100 percent voluntary," she said. "If the board approves it, those families (that don't want their children tested) just wouldn't participate and there'd be no detriment to those kids or judgment." If the program had been approved, a few students each week would have been randomly selected to be tested.

If they tested positive for drugs, their parents would be notified and "hopefully it will be the first step in positive intervention," Hall wrote in a letter to parents.

"It's not supposed to be a program that's going to be punishment oriented," he said.

If players tested positive a second time, they would be suspended from the team until they had completed a rehabilitation program, the details of which had not yet been worked out, he said.

The coach said he hoped the testing would give athletes an excuse to not use drugs when their peers may be pressuring them to, he said.

"We want them to have a valid reason to say no to drugs because of a potential test," he wrote in the letter.

De Chiro said last week she didn't know of any other schools in Southern Oregon that perform drug tests on their athletes. A handful of high schools in the country have their athletes take drug tests, Hall said.

Hannah Guzik is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. She can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 226, or hguzik@dailytidings.com.