With Court Nod, Parents Debate School Drug Tests

With Court Nod, Parents Debate School Drug Tests
Posted by CN Staff on September 29, 2002 at 10:11:30 PT
By Tamar Lewin
Source: New York Times 
In this serene lakeside town, a group has gathered at the high school each week since August to try to hammer out a consensus on drug testing in the schools: a pastor, a basketball coach, a sheriff, a social worker, a superintendent and assorted parents, teachers, students and school board members. They have debated whether a first offense should bring counseling or punishment and whether they can best deter drug use through education or testing. They have studied the merits of urine, hair and saliva tests. But week after weary week, they have adjourned without agreement. 
"It cuts deep down to how one sees the world, and people have different views," said Michael Lindley, the superintendent. "Some say it's invasive and you're assuming my child is guilty until proved otherwise. Others say if kids have nothing to hide, it's not invasive. We don't have a huge drug problem here but we don't want to have our heads in the sand." Until last spring, when the United States Supreme Court ruled, 5 to 4, that schools could conduct drug tests on students involved in extracurricular activities, the school board here had given the matter little thought. But now, here and in small towns across the nation, drug testing has become a hot issue. Rather than resolving the question, it seems, the court's decision has touched off a new round of passionate debate. From Glen Cove, N.Y., to Lockney, Tex., hundreds of school boards are now considering whether  and how  to use drug tests. The proposals they are considering range from voluntary programs offering incentives like discount coupons for students who agree to be tested, to, in a few places, testing all students.Before the Supreme Court's decision, about 5 percent of the nation's public school districts conducted drug tests of student athletes  a practice that the court upheld in 1995. But many districts decided the legal parameters of testing were so uncertain that they should await further guidance before adopting a plan. The new ruling opened the way for much wider testing of students. It upheld the Tecumseh, Okla., schools' policy that required random urine testing as a condition for participating in any extracurricular activity involving interscholastic competition, including sports teams, the chorus and the Future Homemakers of America. Lindsay Earls, the student who challenged the policy, said it violated her privacy rights and the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of unreasonable searches.But the majority opinion, by Justice Clarence Thomas, said the search was entirely reasonable, given the nationwide epidemic of drug use by schoolchildren. By emphasizing the schools' "custodial responsibilities" for their students, the majority opinion seemed to point to judicial support for testing all students. Most large urban districts have shown no interest in drug testing. But many smaller districts, especially in the South and Midwest, are very interested. The Tecumseh district has received a stream of calls from school districts that want copies of its drug-testing policy."It's stayed steady ever since the ruling," Danny Jacobs, Tecumseh's assistant superintendent, said recently. "I had two calls just this morning. I tell everybody to read the policy we've posted on the Web. Then they call back and ask how we started, and how we put it in place. It isn't letting up at all yet." While the court ruling resolved some of the legal questions, it did nothing to end the controversy about whether drug testing programs make sense as educational policy. Many health and education groups, from the National Education Association to the American Academy of Pediatrics, oppose drug testing. Students involved in extracurricular activities, they argued in the Tecumseh case, are less likely than others to use drugs, so requiring drug tests as a condition of participation may scare students away from the very activities that help deter drug use. The Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group in Oakland, Calif., that opposes drug testing, recently started a project to help parents and educators who want to resist school boards' efforts to begin drug testing. But last month the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy began distributing a guide supporting drug testing in schools. "Testing has been shown to be extremely effective at reducing drug use in schools and businesses," the government guide said. "As a deterrent, few methods work better or deliver cleaner results." John Walters, director of the White House office, stresses that community debate is crucial in deciding whether to adopt random drug testing. "It's a very, very powerful tool," Mr. Walters said. "But it's not for everybody, and it's not a drop-in, add-water, solve-the-problem kind of tool. You need to have the local community work through the issue, talking to parents and kids and the people who do drug treatment." To avoid all legal uncertainty, some districts are modeling their testing plans directly on the Tecumseh policy upheld by the court: Each month, a group of students in extracurricular activities is chosen, at random, to provide a urine sample. Those who test positive are initially sent for counseling and, in case of a second offense, suspended from extracurricular activities. "I tell districts that if they adopt the same verbatim policy as Tecumseh, that would be safe," said Paul Lyle, a Plainview, Tex., lawyer who represents about 50 small West Texas districts. "But I tell them, if you change a comma, it could open the door to something. " The Lockney district is one of his clients that has followed that advice. Previously, Lockney adopted random testing for all students, but when the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the policy, Lockney agreed to stop enforcing it. But after the Supreme Court ruling, Lockney wanted to resume drug tests, and on Sept. 17, the school board voted unanimously to adopt the Tecumseh policy. "We'll probably get 85 percent of the kids in extracurriculars," said Raymond Lusk, the superintendent. "I think it would be fairer to test everybody, because why are some kids more important than others? But we've seen how much litigation costs." In Conway, Ark., where the school board last year approved random testing of students in extracurricular activities but suspended it until the Supreme Court ruling, the board voted again in August and deadlocked, 3-3, with one member out of town. "When I got home, everywhere I went, people were coming up and saying, `This is something we really need,' " said Gary Greene, the absent member, who ultimately voted for the testing program. "I'd been leaning toward voting no, but I must have heard from 75 or 100 people who wanted it. I was just flabbergasted. I've been on the school board since 1988, and I've never seen this many people get so involved." Others take a different approach: In Autauga County, Ala., students who join a voluntary drug testing program, and test negative, are given an identification card entitling them to discounts at dozens of local fast-food places and stores. In New Buffalo, the school board was on the verge of adopting a policy in August, under which 10 students would be randomly selected, six times a year, for testing. But at the meeting where the policy was read, opposition prompted Dr. Lindley to create a task force  three supporters of drug testing, three opponents, and three who were undecided  to hold open meetings to gather community reaction and then to recommend a policy to the school board.Some opponents quickly began circulating a petition against drug testing, at church picnics and Little League gatherings, collecting more than 200 signatures. But the task force started from square one. "We looked at the advantages and disadvantages of urine testing and hair testing," Dr. Lindley said. "I doubt that we'll get to saliva, because it just tells you about drug use in the previous day. If I had my druthers, we'd look at hair, which is more expensive, but lets you pick up drug residues from three months ago." Here, as elsewhere, there has been a split between those, like Chuck Heit, the school board treasurer and former police chief, who thinks students who use drugs should be punished, and those  the majority here  who are more interested in arranging for counseling or treatment. The task force found some common ground: everyone agreed that student use of drugs, alcohol and tobacco should be addressed; that education, deterrence and counseling should begin early; and that the policy should enhance the sense of community, not divide it. "We're trying to be communitarian, and it's not a quick process," said the Rev. Brad Bartelmay, a local pastor. "The issue, not just for this community, but for the whole nation, is getting people to buy in to a common goal." But whenever the talk turned to drug testing, there was nothing close to agreement, among students or adults. Recently, a survey by the local paper found the town evenly split on the issue. At the recent meeting there was a general feeling that the task force was getting nowhere. "We all came out of that meeting thinking we'd taken a step backwards," said Traci Lauricella, a member of the school board. "It's not a good feeling to think you spent all these weeks and got nowhere. But we're meeting again Wednesday. I haven't given up hope, but I'm buckling my seat belt for a bumpy ride." Newshawk: Michael SegestaSource: New York Times (NY)Author: Tamar LewinPublished: September 29, 2002Copyright: 2002 The New York Times Company Contact: letters Website: CannabisNews Drug Testing Archives
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Comment #1 posted by p4me on September 29, 2002 at 12:35:34 PT
The New York Times- All the News Fit To Print
According to the milemarker that was the Playboy article that pegged state and federal spending on the WoSD at over $40 billion, it stated the drug-testing industry was $5.9billion. They have come up with even more products to test more substances more often. So lets say $6 billion for roundness sake. The country as a whole, needs to martial the public money with a list of priorities as to who, what, when, and where. I wish the journalist of The New York Times would ask real experts about their priorities in how best to use public monies in a more honest effort to control the harms of drug abuse.This $6 billion industry is gaming the system the same way the pill industry does with its 600 lobbyist in Washington. But I say school buses and new computers are logical riorities over massive drug-testing. 3 in 10 high school students use tobacco, and maybe one could rightly say about tobacco is that any use is abuse. Anyway, "Don't abuse drugs." Tobacco shows the hypocracy. It is the prime example of drug-abuse. It all but defines addiction. And they do not test for it. It shows total hypocracy. And the practice of using vaporizers needs to be encouraged by people that use tobacco and the cannabis reform movement needs to share their awareness of the benefits of vaporizers before we even get relegalization. After relegalization don't you think the tobacco smoker will want to use his spouses' bong once they get a nice one. My feeling is that is if it is a woman, she may make the law the vaporizer must be used to minimize harm for both users. A man might suggest the same thing, but I don't think men are much allowed to make laws in private houses of married couples. Look what men have done to the Courts, Constitution, and Congress. That is just my honest opinion. Hey, if it comes down to a list of men and a woman and I don't know them, I'm for voting for women. I take exception with Elibeth Dole because she would be another Republican hack willing to follow the party line on to permanent tax cuts for the rich. All I can say, is that at least the Times said something. I say school buses over testing. If, the schools cannot tell and their parents cannot tell, why not teach instead of test. I would just have a dog sniff out the tobacco kids and have them assemble and have a talking to them if I did anything. 30% of a school would take a big room. It is way past time to quit playing games with children and an addiction to tobacco. I do not want to talk about steroids but I will say "Don't abuse drugs." Hey I am working towards a Medal of Freedom Award.1,2
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