Schools Tussle With Specifics of Drug Testing 

Schools Tussle With Specifics of Drug Testing 
Posted by CN Staff on July 05, 2004 at 22:16:59 PT
By Timm Herdt
Source: Ventura County Star 
Sacramento -- Responding to the community's cries for action in the wake of the drug-overdose deaths of two young people in 2002, the Ojai Unified School District last year implemented a voluntary drug testing program at Nordhoff High. It works like this: Parents and students must agree to allow the testing, there are no consequences for declining, and testing results are revealed only to the families.More than 100 families signed up, and the popularity of the program was such that the school board voted to expand it in the coming school year to include seventh- and eighth-graders as well.
The drug-testing program has been well received, said Assistant Superintendent Jim Berube, both because of what it is -- voluntary and therapeutic -- and because of what it is not -- random and punitive.Berube was instrumental in designing the voluntary program and is an unabashed supporter. What does he think of the idea of random drug testing, where as a condition of participation in athletics or other extracurricular activities, all students must agree to be tested?"I don't like that at all," he said.Across the nation, thousands of other school districts, empowered by a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that expanded their authority to test for drugs, are addressing the questions the community of Ojai asked of its school officials in late 2002. Should schools be testing kids for drug use and, if so, how should the tests be conducted and which students should be tested? President Is Supporter President Bush, who declared in his State of the Union address that random drug testing in schools has contributed to a decline in adolescent drug use, has proposed a tenfold increase in federal funding to support testing programs. Federal Drug Czar John Walters calls random testing "a powerful new tool for controlling one of the worst threats facing kids today."In Sacramento, however, legislators appear on the verge of passing a law that would end community-level debates over random drug tests in California schools. A bill that would bar their use statewide has passed the Senate and advanced to the Assembly floor. A final vote will likely be taken next month.Critics in the Legislature say random drug testing is intrusive, ineffective and expensive; will discourage students from participating in after-school activities; and will create a culture of suspicion that sends a disturbing message to students."The real message is, 'We don't trust you. We think you're all doing drugs,' " said Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, D-Los Angeles, who for 20 years taught in inner-city Los Angeles high schools. "Drug use was pretty high, but nothing would have hurt our awful situation more than this."Citing a study by the federal government's leading researcher on adolescent drug use that showed no difference in the use of illicit drugs among students who attend schools that test for drugs and those who attend schools that do not, the state director of the Drug Policy Alliance said testing programs are an expensive waste of time."It's an example of a feel-good program that doesn't work," said Glenn Backes, whose organization is the sponsor of the legislation, SB 1386.No Tests Without Suspicion The bill would expressly allow suspicion-based testing, authorizing school officials to test a student when they have "articulable reasons" to suspect that he or she may be using drugs. It would also allow voluntary programs such as the one in Ojai to continue, as long as they are truly voluntary and the results of tests are kept tightly confidential.Deputy Drug Czar Andrea Barthwell came from Washington, D.C., last month to testify in Sacramento against the bill. She argued that random drug testing is preferable to suspicion-based tests."Suspicionless testing eliminates the potential for teachers to act arbitrarily and eliminates the badge of shame of being tested," she said.California would be acting irresponsibly if it outlaws random drug tests, she argued.Knowing that they might be subjected to a test, Barthwell said, gives students a powerful incentive to stay away from drugs. "It changes their risk-benefit analysis toward rejecting drug use rather than accepting drug use. It stiffens their spines. ... Parents will hold schools accountable if you deny them access to this life- and future-saving tool."All sides in the debate over drug testing agree that drug use among teens is a serious problem and that schools have a role in combatting it. Beyond that, said Ventura County Superintendent of Schools Charles Weis, there are no easy answers."In Ventura County, it is the No. 1 problem," Weis said. "We're losing kids to drug use. Whether the strategy of random testing is right, I don't know. It's a difficult debate. ... Young people's drug use is a complex problem and requires a complex solution."The degree of difficulty in the debate was reflected in two narrow U.S. Supreme Court decisions handed down in 1995 and 2002. The first held that random drug testing of athletes was constitutional; the second expanded schools' authority to include random testing of students who participate in other extracurricular activities.Both cases were decided on 5-4 votes.Writing for the majority in the most recent case, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that students who participate in extracurricular activities have only "a limited expectation of privacy" and that schools are justified in intruding upon that privacy because they have a duty to "deter the substantial harm of childhood drug use."In dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg notes while there may be safety reasons to require testing of student athletes, to test those engaged in other activities is not only intrusive, but could also be counterproductive."Nationwide, students who participate in extracurricular activities are significantly less likely to develop substance abuse problems than are their less-involved peers," she wrote. "Even if students might be deterred from drug use in order to preserve their extracurricular eligibility, it is at least as likely that other students might forgo their extracurricular involvement in order to avoid detection of their drug use ... (Random testing) risks steering students at greatest risk for substance abuse away from extracurricular involvement that potentially may palliate drug problems."Rights of Students Supporters of the California bill believe the court majority's decision did not adequately safeguard the privacy rights of students."Students in California enjoy the protections of our basic, fundamental rights," said Attorney General Bill Lockyer. "Well-intended, anti-drug perspectives are being used to step on young people's personal Note: Officials Debate If Programs Will Be Random or Voluntary.Source: Ventura County Star (CA)Author: Timm HerdtPublished: July 5, 2004Copyright: 2004 The E.W. Scripps Co.Website: letters venturacountystar.comRelated Article:Random Drug Test Ban OK'd Drug Testing Archives 
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