PLAINWELL – Beginning this week, students who participate in extracurricular activities, including athletics, at Plainwell High School can be randomly drug tested as part of a new policy approved by the school board in December.
The policy permits testing students’ urine for nicotine, marijuana, opioids and methamphetamine, among other drugs, and student-athletes who test positive a first time will be suspended from 50 percent of competitions, but can apply for a reduced suspension if they complete a drug awareness program, agree to additional drug testing and meet with representatives from the athletic department.
A second positive test would prohibit student-athletes from participating for a full calendar year, and a third would mean a ban from sports in the district altogether.
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Plainwell girls basketball coach Tim Rieman, who was on the committee that developed the new policy, said he has seen a rise in vaping at the high school and wants to provide kids with another reason to avoid e-cigarettes and other substances.
“To be honest with you, we’ve had such an increase in underage kids vaping, and we’ve put so much man power in suspensions and detentions and things like that because people are doing it constantly on school grounds, everywhere,” Rieman said. “Principal Jeremy Wright said we need to be proactive to give kids an out.
“If a kid is in situation, where he wants to say ‘No,’ he can tell them he doesn’t want to jeopardize his extracurriculars, and I think that’s a great idea.”
David Stout, a freshman football player, does not agree with the testing.
“It does not take into account all of the other students who don’t participate in athletics or extracurricular activities,” he said. “It is picking on just a few people. Not only is it picking on them, but it can make matters worse.
“The kids doing these activities are often kept away from drugs, because it occupies them. It gives them something to focus on. These kids may be discouraged from participating in those activities. If they are caught and kicked out, they may never commit to those activities again. Giving them more time to get into trouble.”
Another Plainwell student-athlete, who agreed to speak under the condition of anonymity, said he can already see the policy deterring some of his peers from using substances the tests are targeting, but added that he can also envision it deterring some from signing up for sports altogether.
“The benefits are already being shown, as I can see some of my peers cutting down on use of the drugs they are testing for, especially vaping,” the student said. “The negative side of this is the kids that all they have is sports in life might be swayed away from playing if they know they can’t stay clean.”
In order for Plainwell students to participate in athletics or extracurricular activities, parents must sign a permission form before the start of each athletic or extracurricular season that includes consent to the drug testing.
Plainwell Community Schools Superintendent Matthew Montagne told MLive last week that “parents and students have been positive and have turned in all the necessary forms to participate,” but there are some who don’t fully agree with the policy.
A Plainwell parent of a current student-athlete, who also agreed to speak under the condition of anonymity, echoed Stout’s sentiments that suspending kids from the activities that provide a positive influence could compound the problem.
“The biggest concern I have is there are some kids that use athletics or extracurriculars in general keep them on the straight and narrow, and they are positive for those kid’s lives,” the parent said. “If they get caught vaping once, twice, they can get taken out of that. These kids who instead of spending time on sports, music, whatever it may be, they get that taken away from that, and it gives them time to do other things and not have those positive influences in their lives.”
Of the school’s 860 students, about 300 participate in extracurricular activities, and under the new policy, 10 percent of male and 10 percent of female students from that group of 300 will be randomly tested.
Principal Jeremy Wright said in November that each drug test cost $4.88 and comes from the school’s student activity fund.
Some parents see that as a waste of resources that could be allocated elsewhere, while others see the cost as a worthwhile deterrent for kids who want to continue playing sports without worry of suspension.
“As a parent of a student athlete, I do not support the drug testing policy,” said a parent who agreed speak anonymously. “I understand that Plainwell Community Schools is trying to combat a problem at the schools, however, I believe they are going after the wrong kids.”
“Generally, student athletes are not the kids that you find vaping or doing drugs. Before this policy went into effect I could count on one hand how many student athletes were suspended for vaping or drug use. Compare that to how many non-athlete kids were suspended and it’s a very small percentage of student athletes getting in trouble. I believe the money and resources could be better spent on other ways to educated students and parents.”
“What I like about it is that it’s overall going to help not only athletes, buts students overall,” said another parent who agreed to speak anonymously. “Hopefully it deters them from drinking, doing any kind drugs or vaping. If that can eliminate people doing that, I think all the kids the school system are better off.
“It gives them another choice to combat the peer pressure thing, so I think it’s good and good for the parents to know that if they do get tested that they pass.”
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Rieman, now in his 10th year as Plainwell’s girls basketball coach, said he thinks the limited number of tests and their random nature could lead to some early suspensions, but that the number of athletes testing positive will decline as the program moves along.
“Originally, the first year or so, it might be a shock seeing how many kids are doing it and thinking they can get away with it because It is completely random,” Rieman said. “Then, I think it will die down a bit, and I think it will go very well.”
Another Plainwell parent of a current student-athlete worries that, while few kids will get suspended, the ones who do test positive will carry a stigma throughout high school.
“I think the impact on Plainwell athletic teams will be minimal; I do not anticipate many student athletes failing the test,” he said. “But I’m worried if they do fail, that’s it for the kid, and he or she will not return to sports or other activities once they are labelled a drug test failure.”
Rieman said coaches from around Southwest Michigan have shown interest in the policy and are waiting to see the results in Plainwell, adding that the high school’s current principal used a similar program in Florida with favorable outcomes.
“Most of the coaches that I’ve talked to want info about it and what I think the impact will be, but a lot schools are commending us for implementing this and kind of being the guinea pig,” Rieman said. “Our principle, Dr. Wright, did it in Florida, and it was very successful there.”