Pubdate: Wed, 28 Jan 2004
Source: USA Today (US)
Copyright: 2004 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc
Author: Fredreka Schouten, Gannett News Service
Cited: Safety First
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)


WASHINGTON -- President Bush's call for a tenfold increase in federal 
spending 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, says Julie Underwood, general counsel for the 
National School Boards Association. The cost of drug testing has deterred 
some districts.

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

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

It is not known exactly how many students are required to have such testing 
today. Experts say the numbers are small.

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 found.

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

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

One of the few large-scale scientific studies 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, which he announced in his State of the Union speech 
last week, have seized on the study's findings to argue that the plan is a 
waste of money. And they say random testing, which generally is limited to 
athletes and students in extracurricular programs, targets kids who are 
unlikely to use drugs in the first place and could discourage participation 
in school activities.

"What drug testing can actually do is to drive students away from 
extracurricular activities if they fear drug testing," says Marsha 
Rosenbaum, director of Safety First, a group opposed to such testing.

But Bush administration officials describe testing as a powerful tool in 
the fight against drug addiction and point to an 11% drop in drug use among 
students in grades 8, 10 and 12 in the past two years.

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

Too many people "are in denial about the scope of this problem," Walters 
says. "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, from football to debate. In the 5-4 ruling, 
justices said schools' responsibility for kids outweigh students' rights to 

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

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 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 says.

The case is pending.

Lawsuits challenging drug tests in schools also have been filed in 
Arkansas, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas and 
Washington, says the Drug Policy Alliance, which opposes testing.

Paul Houston of the American Association of School Administrators says 
testing often is an expensive venture and providing treatment is an even 
bigger obstacle.

"It was a great political sound bite," he says of Bush's proposal. "But in 
terms of impact, it probably isn't going to have much." 		
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake