Pubdate: Tue, 27 Jan 2004
Source: Jackson Sun News (TN)
Copyright: 2004 The Jackson Sun
Author: Fredreka Schouten
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)
Bookmark: (Students - United States)


Bush's Call For School Drug Tests Raises Practicality, Cost

WASHINGTON - President Bush's call for a tenfold increase in federal
funding for drug testing at schools could boost the number of schools
that conduct random tests of students, experts say.

More schools are likely to apply for drug-testing money if Congress
approves Bush's plan, said Julie Underwood, general counsel of the
National School Boards Association. But she also said the cost of a
drug-testing program has deterred some districts.

"When you are trying to choose between drug testing and buying
textbooks, many schools choose textbooks,'' she said.

Three House Republicans, Reps. John Peterson of Pennsylvania, Mark
Souder of Indiana and Tom Osborne of Nebraska, have introduced a bill
in Congress to carry out Bush's plan.

No one knows exactly how many students are required to be tested
today. Experts say the numbers are small.

Some West Tennessee high schools already perform random drug tests.
Crockett County High School and Milan High School, for example,
perform random tests for athletes.

A study by University of Michigan researchers, published in the April
2003 Journal of School Health, estimated that nearly one in five of
the nation's secondary schools used some form of drug testing. But
most schools do not conduct random screenings, and instead test only
when they have evidence or suspicions of drug use, the researchers

Last year, the federal government had a $2 million budget to help
school districts pay for random testing, said Brian Blake, spokesman
for the White House Office of National Drug Policy Control. Only eight
states received grants.

Critics of drug testing argue that there's little concrete evidence
that it deters drug use. And legal battles continue to rage over
efforts to expand random testing and whether it infringes on student

One of the few large-scale scientific studies of drug testing in
schools found nearly identical rates of drug use in schools that use
testing and those that don't. But the University of Michigan study did
not focus entirely on random tests.

Opponents of Bush's proposal to make $25 million available to schools
next year for drug testing - announced in his State of the Union
speech last week - have seized on the study's findings to argue the
plan is a waste of money.

And they argue that random testing, generally limited to athletes and
students in extracurricular programs, targets kids who are unlikely to
use drugs in the first place and could discourage student
participation in afterschool activities.

"What drug testing can actually do is to drive students away from
extracurricular activities if they fear drug testing,'' said Marsha
Rosenbaum, director of Safety First, a group opposed to such testing.
"Between the hours of 3 and 6 p.m. during the week is also the same
three hours which is the highest for student drug use.''

Administration officials describe the testing as a powerful tool in
the fight against drug addiction, and point to an 11 percent drop in
drug use among students in grades eight, 10 and 12 in the last two

John Walters, who oversees the White House's drug-fighting efforts,
said he sees the difference when he visits schools that conduct
testing. "You talk to kids who feel safer,'' he said.

Too many people "are in denial about the scope of this problem,''
Walters said. "You can't say that student athletes have lower rates of
use than other kids. We are not going to watch kids be victims.''

The Supreme Court gave schools wider drug-testing powers in 2002,
approving random testing of high school students involved in any
competitive extracurricular activities, ranging from football to
debate teams. In the 5-4 ruling, the justices said schools'
responsibility for kids outweighed students' rights to privacy

But legal battles continue around the country over efforts to expand
such testing.

In a Pennsylvania case, two sisters sued the Delaware Valley School
District in Milford over its policy requiring students to agree to
drug testing if they participate in extracurricular activities or seek
permits to park on campus.

The lawsuit also argues that the state's constitution provides even
more privacy protections than the U.S. Constitution and should govern
the conduct of schools.

The school district's policy was sparked by a 1998 case of heroin
possession at one of the district's schools, Superintendent Candis
Finan said.

"The community demanded to know, 'What are you going to do to protect
our children from being dealt heroin in schools?''' she said.

The case still is pending.

Lawsuits challenging drug tests in schools also have been filed in
Arkansas, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas
and Washington, according to the Drug Policy Alliance, a group that
opposes such testing.

Paul Houston, executive director of the American Association of School
Administrators, said drug testing often is an expensive venture for
schools. And providing treatment is an even bigger obstacle.

"It was a great political sound bite for a speech,'' Houston said of
Bush's proposal. "But in terms of having much impact, it's probably
isn't going to have much.''
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin