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SHS students disappointed with random drug testing ruling

Sunnyside High School leadership class students were hopeful that the school district might be able to implement random drug testing of the school's athletes.

Those hopes have since been hindered by a recent ruling of the Washington State Supreme Court.

The students attended a leadership conference in Washington D.C. in February, where they devised a plan to help stem the use of marijuana and alcohol among students. They followed through with the plan in asking the local school board that the Sunnyside School District consider random drug testing of student athletes.

The Washington Supreme Court, since then however, ruled that random drug testing of student athletes is unconstitutional, essentially removing an element of the leadership students' plan.

Leadership student Samantha Pearson said that she does agree that random drug testing is an invasion of a student's privacy. But, she feels that because drugs are an illegal substance, the courts should be more concerned with curtailing the use of drugs.

Student athlete and leadership class student Danny Alvarez mirrored Pearson's comments, stating that drug problems are often complained about...especially where the younger generation is concerned, but solutions are rarely offered.

"We are trying to bring accountability to our athletes because they represent our school and serve as role models to younger students," said Pearson, stating that children in the middle schools and elementary schools look up to the athletes at Sunnyside High School.

"They want to be like our athletes," she said.

Alvarez said that he remembers a year in which he was a middle school student and the SHS varsity football team had been sanctioned when several of its members had been caught at a party. "It was disappointing because I remember the JV players had to compete against Prosser, and I feel incidents like that are what the community remembers," he explained.

"It sets the tone as to how the school is perceived," said Pearson, "...and we are trying to change that perception."

Alvarez said he and his fellow leadership classmates want the community and other schools to view SHS as a better school because "...I have heard people refer to us as the 'ghetto' school."

Pearson said the leadership class has been trying to devise ways in which students at the school can be held accountable for their actions where drug use is concerned. She said they have asked for added security between classes and during the lunchtime hours. "We are also trying to implement an anonymous hotline for students to report drug use," she stated.

When asked about current policies regarding student athletes, Alvarez said the athletes sign an athletic contract. He said the contract includes an option that allows the student to volunteer for drug screening and an agreement to maintain a drug-free lifestyle. "We agree to stay away from circumstances involving drugs," he added.

"But who would volunteer to be tested if they are doing drugs?" Pearson questioned, stating that there is a great likelihood that individuals who sign the contract are not apt to volunteer for a drug test.

"And those who know they are going to be tested can often find a way around testing positive," Alvarez noted, stating that he already knows of individual students who do avoid positive results of court-mandated drug screenings.

Pearson said that is the very reason the leadership class was seeking random drug testing.

"We weren't trying to single out athletes, but they are the school representatives. We were hoping for a lottery system of testing them," she explained.

The pair said there has been some discussion as to steps they might take to let lawmakers and the courts know that random drug testing would prove to benefit students more than cause harm.

In the meantime, the class has yet to figure out alternative methods in which they might discourage the use of drugs among the students at SHS.

"The athlete leaders can begin by setting a positive example for younger students. Because many high school students are already set in their ways and may not be willing to pay as much attention to the message we try to send, it is important to reach out to the kids in the lower grades," Alvarez stated.

Pearson said she feels the recent court ruling will make it a little more difficult to establish accountability among the students at SHS, but she feels a solution is possible. "We are determined to find it," she concluded.

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