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Published in Print: June 12, 2002, as Nev. School District To Get Access To Athletes' Court Records

Nev. School District To Get Access To Athletes' Court Records

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In what could be a first-of-its-kind policy, school officials in Washoe County, Nev., will have access to court and police records for all of their high school student athletes this coming fall.

The nine-member school board of the 59,000-student district near Reno unanimously decided late last month that any student who wishes to try out for an athletic team must first submit a waiver signed by his or her parent that allows the district to gain access to juvenile-justice records for the student.

The policy, which could be contested in court, is intended to deter illegal drug, alcohol, and tobacco use among student athletes, said Steve Mulvenon, the director of communications for the district.

"There is a major problem with substance abuse, not just among student athletes, but all students," he said. He added, however, that the district had no plans to extend the policy to students who do not participate in the athletics program.

Washoe County is piloting the substance-abuse initiative for the state athletic association.

Teachers, coaches, and other school officials often hear by word-of-mouth about student athletes using illegal substances, Mr. Mulvenon said.

But it has been difficult to prove that the offense occurred, he added.

Litigation Threatened

Under the policy that takes effect in the fall, when a school official hears that kind of rumor, the district's police force will request a copy of the student's records, if any, from the local police department.

Besides submitting a signed waiver, every student interested in participating in the district's sports program will be required to watch a video that outlines the policy and the consequences for getting caught using illegal substances.

For a first offense, the student will be suspended from his or her team for six competitive weeks of the sports season. After a second offense, the student will be suspended from the team for 90 days, and must have a substance-abuse evaluation, paid for by the parents and performed by a licensed drug or alcohol-abuse counselor.

After a third offense, the student will be prohibited from playing on any team for the remainder of his or her high school career.

The substance-abuse program, including the access to students' court and police records, was designed by the Nevada Interscholastic Athletics Association, the body that governs high school sports in the state.

The NIAA hopes to implement the initiative in every district in the state by the fall of 2003 so that there is a uniform substance- abuse policy, said Jerry Hughes, the organization's executive director.

The problem has grown to the point where students who have been arrested and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol have still been able to participate in team sports, he said. But, he added, schools will not be asking for records that do not pertain to substance abuse, and will not ask for records unless there is a reason to believe that drug, alcohol, or tobacco use had occurred.

Still, opponents of the policy say that the policy violates students' right to privacy. "Very clearly this is a half-baked idea, and at worst a major intrusion in violation of people's rights," said Allen Lichtenstein, a lawyer for the Nevada chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Because the waiver does not specify which records can be accessed, or exactly who can look at those documents, he said, it gives the district "carte blanche" to obtain any records they want, including those that have nothing to do with illegal substances.

Gary Peck, the director of the Nevada ACLU, called the policy a "travesty," and said that his organization would "urge the school board to reconsider the policy and ask them to rescind it."

Edwin Darden

If they refuse, he said, the ACLU will try to make sure the policy is not enforced. "That would certainly include litigating the issue if we have to," he added.

Nationally, this could be the first time that a school district has required such waivers for participation in sports, said Edwin Darden, a staff lawyer for the National School Boards Association, which is based in Alexandria, Va. "It certainly is innovative," he said last week.

But the program is not wholly unlike the drug tests that some districts require of their student athletes, and that have been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, Mr. Darden added. He said that the waivers are not a violation of students' privacy, because participating in sports activities is "a privilege and not a right."

Vol. 21, Issue 40, Page 13

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