School considering stricter athletics rules

For two decades, the policy at one local school has been if an athlete was caught drinking alcohol or using drugs or tobacco products, he or she would have to sit out for less than a fourth of the season.

But parents at Whiteland Community High School were worried that the nearly 20-year-old policy wasn’t strict enough to really deter students from drinking, smoking or getting high. They were hearing about kids using serious drugs, including heroin, and worried that the consequences they faced just weren’t enough.

So they asked the school to crack down.

Now, Clark-Pleasant school officials are discussing a new policy that would require student-athletes to sit out for half of the season if they are caught using alcohol, tobacco or drugs. If approved, the policy would be one of the most strict policies among local school districts, Whiteland Community High School athletic director Ken Sears said.

By making the policies more strict, the goal is to give teenagers a bigger incentive to say no, Sears said. Under the proposed change, which school board members will consider next week, if a student was using drugs or alcohol, they could miss 50 percent of the rest of their season for the first violation, instead of the 20 percent they can currently miss. If they were caught again, they would miss the whole season.

And if a student attends a party where other people are smoking, drinking or doing drugs, that teenager will now miss 25 percent of their season, up from 20 percent in the current policy.

“Anytime we have one kid that is taking drugs or alcohol and being irresponsible, we have a problem,” Clark-Pleasant superintendent Patrick Spray said. “It doesn’t take 10, it doesn’t take 20, it doesn’t take 100; it takes one.”

All schools across the county have their own policies to dictate what punishment students will face if they are caught drinking, smoking or getting high at a party or through random drug tests.

The goal is not to punish students, but to give them a reason for not using drugs, tobacco or alcohol, officials said.

“One purpose of high school athletics is to promote a healthy lifestyle. Another goal is for students to learn that they are accountable for their actions on and off the playing field,” said Whiteland basketball coach Matt Wadsworth. “This new policy addresses both of these goals.”

Schools, including Clark-Pleasant, Center Grove, Franklin and Greenwood, have random drug testing for students who are in extracurricular activities or have parking passes to the school. Greenwood tests about 15 to 20 students per month, athletic director Rob Irwin said. In the past six months, two or three students have tested positive, Irwin said.

Punishments range from missing games and practices for anywhere from 10 percent of the season to 33 percent or more, to attending substance education programs and additional drug tests.

Other local school officials said they are not considering changing their policies because so few students are suspended each year.

Earlier this year, as in most school years, Whiteland Community High School suspended a few student-athletes for drug, alcohol or tobacco use, Sears said. After that, parents came to Sears and told him the current policy is too lax, and needs to be more strict he said.

Sears met with coaches and surveyed about 200 parents, and the majority of parents agreed that the drug, alcohol and tobacco policy needs to be stricter, Sears said.

“We are serious about reinforcing the need to make good choices,” said Whiteland Community High School football coach Darrin Fisher. “High school athletics in most cases gives a young athlete something bigger than themselves to belong to and a reason to do the right things because others are counting on them.

In those cases where an athlete selfishly puts themselves in front of the team, the privilege of being a member of that team is put in jeopardy.”

Parents were concerned that students could get caught for using drugs, alcohol or tobacco without losing too much of their sports season, Sears said. They also were concerned about the school’s honesty clause, which allows students to get a more lenient punishment if they turn themselves in for a violation, such as attending a party where alcohol or drugs were, before a coach or administrator finds out.

The honesty clause turned into something it wasn’t intended for, Spray said. After a party on a Saturday night, students would race to the school early Monday morning in order to catch their coach or principal on their way into the building, he said.

Sears said he thinks the clause should be cut altogether.

“My take on these type of policies is they’re never perfect, but we want something that will be a strong deterrent from the activity, from participating in this, but also something that helps kids learn a lesson,” Spray said.

Sears hopes having a stricter policy will make students less likely to use drugs, alcohol or tobacco, he said.

“By us becoming one of the tougher schools now, hopefully that will change that perception,” Sears said. “We’ve taken away all of the ‘what if’s.’”

Other schools said they think their policies are strict enough, especially since few students are punished each year.

The majority of the time, officials are suspending a few students at a time, instead of dozens, athletic directors said.

But when multiple students or the top players are suspended, teenagers can see the effects of their decision, Fisher said.

“Unfortunately it is a cycle,” Fisher said. “Every few years it happens, and a suspension grabs their attention.”

Franklin schools has not needed to update their drug, alcohol and tobacco policy in the three years athletics director John Regas has worked at the school, but officials have increased the number of students given random drug tests, Regas said.

When Center Grove student Sam Motsay died after taking a synthetic drug known as N-bomb in 2014, school officials discussed if the school should do anything more, Regas said.

The school received a grant from Drug-Free Johnson County which allowed the school district to test 180 students per school year, compared to the 80 tests they used to do annually, Regas said.

“Rather than make the punishment harder, we decided to test more kids,” Regas said.

By upping the possibility of a student getting picked for a drug test, that helped students see it as a deterrent for using drugs, alcohol or tobacco, Regas said. Out of the 180 students tested per year, a small handful of students test positive, Regas said.

“I think we all know that things happen out there. We don’t pretend that they don’t,” Regas said.

Sears can think of several students who were punished, and are now great examples of the type of student athlete that officials want to see.

“Kids make mistakes. They do, and that is what our job is: to help kids when they make mistakes and learn from them,” Sears said. “We’ve got some great examples of kids who tested positive that are outstanding young people right now.”

What other schools' policies say

Center Grove

Rule #1: Do not use or possess any controlled substances, drug paraphernalia, alcohol, or any tobacco products.

First violation: Student athlete is removed from sport immediately, and all honors and awards will be forfeited. Driving privileges are suspended for 90 school days. In order to participate again, students have to submit a drug screen to the school and attend two educational awareness counseling sessions, both at the student’s expense.

Additional violation: Driving privileges will be suspended for 180 school days, and students can’t participate in practice or games for one calendar year. They also have to submit another drug screen to the school and attend four educational awareness counseling sessions at the student’s expense.

Rule #2: Do not be in attendance at any gathering where there is unlawful use of alcohol, controlled substances or drug paraphernalia.

First violation: The student athlete will forfeit 10 percent of their season. Driving privileges will be suspended for 45 school days. In order to participate again, students have to submit a drug screen to the school and attend one educational awareness counseling sessions, both at the student’s expense.

Additional violation: Driving privileges will be suspended for 90 school days and the student athlete will forfeit 25 percent of their season. In order to participate again, students have to submit a drug screen to the school and attend two educational awareness counseling sessions, both at the student’s expense.

Franklin

First violation: The student is suspended from participation for 12 weeks. In addition, they also have to schedule an assessment at a school-approved facility. The student has to follow any recommendations from the assessment, and submit additional random drug screens for one calendar year following the suspension. The student will have to attend practice, games or meetings during the suspension, but cannot participate.

Second violation: The student is suspended for any activity for one calendar year. If a student wants to participate after the suspension, they have to have an assessment from a school-approved facility, follow any recommendations from the assessment, and submit additional random drug screens for one calendar year following the suspension.

Third violation: The student will be suspended from all extracurricular activities for the remainder of the student’s high school career.

Indian Creek

First violation: Suspension from a minimum of 33% of contests beginning at the time of the violation. The student athlete will also be expected to complete five hours of community service during the time of the suspension. The student athlete will also agree to be drug tested a minimum of one more time during the current sport season.

Second violation: Suspension from athletic competition for a minimum of 365 days beginning at the time of the violation. The student athlete must complete 10 hours of community service during the suspension before returning to play. The student athlete also agrees to be drug tested a minimum of two times during the 365-day suspension.

Third violation: Suspension from athletics for the remainder of their high school career.

Whiteland's policies

Here is a look at what Whiteland Community High School is considering changing in its athletic policies:

Current policy:

Students caught using drugs, alcohol or tobacco

First violation: Suspended for 20 percent of the remaining season

Honesty clause: If a student admits their involvement, their penalty can be reduced by 50 percent

Students caught at a party where drugs, alcohol or tobacco is being used

First violation: Suspended for 20 percent of the remaining season

Honesty clause: If a student admits their involvement, their penalty can be reduced by 50 percent

Amnesty clause: If a student has a dependency or addiction issue, and comes to a coach or administrator for help, the athlete will not be penalized as long as they complete a certified abuse program.

Proposed policy

Students caught using drugs, alcohol or tobacco

First violation: Students will miss 50 percent of the remainder of their season. If it is the end of the season, the penalty will carry over to the next sports season.

Second violation: Students will be suspended from all sports for at least one calendar year

Third violation: Suspension from all sports for the remainder of their high school career

Students caught at a party where drugs, alcohol or tobacco is being used

First violation: Students will miss 25 percent of the remainder of the season

Second violation: Students will be suspended from sports for at least one calendar year

Amnesty clause: If a student has a dependency or addiction issue, and comes to a coach or administrator for help, the athlete will not be penalized as long as they complete a certified abuse program.