Pubdate: Sun, 29 Sep 2002
Source: Hendersonville Times-News (NC)
Contact:  2002 Hendersonville Newspaper Corporation
Author: Tamar Lewin
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)
Bookmark: (Youth)


NEW BUFFALO, Mich. -- 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.
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