Pubdate: Thu, 21 Mar 2002
Source: Inquirer (PA)
Copyright: 2002 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)


Perhaps, if schools show great care in performing drug tests on students.

If discussion Tuesday in the U.S. Supreme Court was any indication, schools 
may soon have the high court's blessing to randomly test students 
participating in extracurricular activities - chess club to cheerleaders - 
for drugs.

The justices might go further and allow testing of all students.

Either of those results would be fine. Drug use among teenagers is a 
serious problem, and students who are minors do not have the same privacy 
rights as adults.

But before passing out the paper cups, parents, teachers and school 
officials should ask themselves some tough questions: Just how much will 
random drug tests do to deter young people from taking marijuana, cocaine, 
heroin? How can tests be administered fairly and discreetly? Should second 
chances and treatment precede punishment?

The court heard arguments over whether a Tecumseh, Okla., school district, 
which had no suspicion of a serious problem, violated students' Fourth 
Amendment ban against unreasonable searches by randomly giving drug tests 
to youngsters involved in extracurricular activities.

The case turns on whether groups of students can be singled out for 
testing, and whether school districts must identify a drug problem before 
testing begins.

The Tecumseh case moves a step beyond a 1995 ruling that said an Oregon 
district with a pervasive drug problem could test its athletes.

In the face of alarming statistics, schools are scrambling for tools to 
combat drug abuse. A recent survey by the Partnership for a Drug- Free 
America found that 48 percent of the teen population had tried illegal drugs.

A number of districts test for drugs. Most programs test every student at 
the time of a required physical and randomly target 10 percent of the 
population throughout the year.

The goal is worthwhile: to steer students clear of harmful addiction.

Here's the best case: Random tests give students a strong reason to say no 
to temptation. If students in Tecumseh don't have a big drug problem, 
perhaps it is because of the threat they'll get caught.

Worst case, randomly testing students interested in extracurricular 
programs may discourage some from participating in the very activities that 
fill empty, bored hours. Tests aimed only at extracurricular participants 
may miss disaffected students who may be more likely to have a problem.

If the Supreme Court does broaden who can be tested for drugs in school, 
school officials will still have much work to do to figure out how to use 
this tool wisely. Random tests must be administered discreetly and 
professionally to ensure privacy and accuracy. First- time positive tests 
should be greeted not with punishment, but with counseling and treatment.

School districts' approach to drug testing should be anything but random.
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