Trustees expressed reluctance to make a decision while they grapple with the legal ramifications and costs, and even debated whether such a program would be necessary with other sports regulations currently in place.
Trustee Barbara Clark said she, like the other members, supports the school district doing everything possible to help students make healthy choices, but said she wondered about its need at this time.
"Do we appropriately fund substance abuse prevention? Absolutely not," Clark said. "We don't fund education appropriately."
Even with all the information provided Tuesday, the trustees said they still needed more research to justify using funds on this program when the district's budget is about to be slashed even more than it already has been.
Ohio-based Sports Safe, a student drug testing specialist company, sent representative Chris Franz to explain the procedure. The drug testing would last for 15 weeks, starting in August, which coincides with the start of the football season, and randomly test 12 students – seven varsity, three junior varsity and two freshman players – every week for the use of 11 different substances. With parent and student permission, the student would follow strict protocol and give a urine sample. All samples would be analyzed at a forensics toxicology lab and if a positive is determined, parents would be notified in order to determine if the student is taking prescribed medication or if they were using illegal substances.
The intention of the program is to identify drug users and provide intervention through referrals to substance abuse clinics in the community, said Katherine Loudon of Safe and Drug Free Schools.
"No student is 100 percent immune from the effects and temptations (of drug use)," Loudon said.
Beyond the 2009-2010 cuts, the district could face more reductions for the 2010-2011 year. Superintendent Paul Dugan said at the meeting that the $10,000 funding for the program would be shouldered in part by his superintendent's budget, which is funded by taxpayers, and in part by McQueen's football program.
"The key word is ‘pilot,’ " Dugan said. "We are not looking for approval for a broad-based district policy on this. Certainly, my feeling is that it's worth exploring."
Dan Carne, trustee, asked questions about the need for a program when the Nevada Interscholastic Athletics Association (NIAA) has a drug policy in place that reprimands athletes for up to three violations.
"Having been on the NIAA board, it already has a policy in place that already deals with these issues," Carne said. "Yet, we're, in effect, saying it's worthless."
Carne also asked for specific data related to the national average of students using substances versus Washoe County.
Loudon offered up results from youth behavioral studies that examine the state and nation.
"Our U.S. surgeon general is looking at coming to Nevada in September to look at Nevada alcohol problems," she said. "We do stand out in a lot of problems related to substance abuse."
Trustee Jonnie Pullman was quick to point out that even between counties, "Washoe County is not the same as Clark County."
Pullman said random drug testing would be one tool as part of an overall program and would require submitting requests for grants from the U.S. Department of Education for federal funding.
The trustees also addressed the few incidents McQueen itself has had with student drug abuse.
"We happen to live in a state where we have casinos that offer alcohol, although I understand casinos support education," Clark said. "I'm looking for justification for doing this when the information I received said there were two students who had been drinking (at McQueen) in 2007."
Dalton responded from his perspective as a 27-year coach at McQueen that alcohol and marijuana are of particular concern at the Reno school.
"I guess if you were in my position doing this, to coach a high-profile team in any school in this district, you'd know that using marijuana or other drugs is exceptionally high," Dalton said. "People know I'm very serious about trying to establish this program; this puts meat and substance in what I'm trying to do.
"I can lose a game and I don't like it when I do, but when I lose kids, that ruins it for me," he continued. "Maybe it was only two or five students using drugs last year, but maybe there were another 25 that weren't caught."
Pullman expressed difficulty at weighing the choice of helping the children or keeping the district within its limited financial means in light of the cuts.
"If the school district share is $5,000 for one athlete in one of 13 high schools and we are talking about potential budget cuts of 14 percent next year, that is something I'm very concerned about," Pullman said. "I'm really struggling with this issue because I'm so against substance abuse and that our kids are pressured."
School board president Barbara Price, who works in the mental health field, said she has seen how young lives are impacted by drug use.
"There's young people who have described this problem and how do we grapple with teachers and coaches?" she said. "What do we do if they show up under the influence? There's a liability issue and we're being careful to look at all federal and state issues."
Price recommended talking to the vendor of the testing, Sports Safe, further, before making a final decision.
McQueen football coach Ken Dalton said he was "very pleased" about the board members' desire to research the matter further before its Aug. 5 meeting.
"I thought the board did an outstanding job of listening to us," Dalton said. "There's a lot of information when running a pilot program. The idea they will come back and make a decision really pleases me."
Dalton said the athletes at McQueen and their parents, including this year's incoming freshmen, have been informed about the proposal and have expressed their full support.
Others opposed the program Tuesday night. Student rights was an issue with Rebecca Gasca, public advocate for the American Civil Liberties Union, who said the organization strongly disagrees with random drug testing as a tool in the fight against student drug abuse.
"We don't dispute the fact that drug use or abuse can create problems in life," Gasca said. "But institutionalizing drug testing with athletes is a distinct move away from the educational mission and moves toward a penal approach and policing."
Gasca said the "suspicionless and warrantless" procedure "makes a mockery of the classroom" that contradicts students' learning about their constitutional rights and is ineffective in developing healthy social lives.
"It makes them shy away from extracurricular activities that they need to avoid further delving into abuse from 3 to 6 p.m., when they primarily use drugs and parents aren't home," she said.
Dr. Stephen Frye, a retired psychiatrist and author of "25 Reasons to Legalize Drugs," opposed the program, calling it a "waste of money."
"All of you are well-meaning without any question," Frye said. "The hallmarks of the war on drugs are unintended consequences and everything backfires when we make testing (required). The marginal student gets thrown off the team and decides to quit school. Then they can't get a job because they don't have a degree. Marijuana is the biggest cash crop and the profit potential is so great it encourages people to sell drugs."
Dalton disagreed with both.
"I believe football is an activity and it's a privilege to play and, therefore, there are responsibilities that go with it," he said. "There are over 30 states that do this. I feel very, very comfortable that we really would like to pursue this and be the leader for the Washoe County School District."
The board will decide at its Aug. 5 meeting. If the program is approved, Dalton said he will meet with students and parents on Aug. 12 to explain the program in detail and collect signatures for participation.
If not, "then it won't go," Dalton said. "That's just the way it is. We want the Board of Trustees' approval on this."