Pubdate: Fri, 12 Mar 2004
Source: Drug War Chronicle (US Web)
Author: Phillip S. Smith, Editor
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)
Bookmark: (Students - United States)


President Bush used his State of the Union address in late January to
announce he was budgeting $23 million to encourage school districts to
do pilot student drug testing projects. The line item would be a
ten-fold increase over this year's $2 million appropriation, which
financed pilot projects in eight school districts. The Office of
National Drug Control Policy, or ONDCP (
and drug czar John Walters have made expanding student drug testing a
"national priority" in this year's anti-drug strategy, and Walters has
been hitting the theme wherever he appears.

And Rep. John Peterson (R-PA) has introduced a bill with
administration support that would encourage random drug testing of
high school students. Until 2002, drug testing was limited to student
athletes, but in a Supreme Court decision last year, the court held
that such testing could be extended to students involved in
extracurricular activities or who sought special privileges, such as
parking permits, from school authorities. And according to some
interpretations of that decision, the court opened the door for random
drug testing of all students.

Clearly a dedicated effort to expand drug testing of school kids is
underway. But while the Bush administration drug warriors are leading
the charge, if they glance behind them they won't see that many
followers. While no one is keeping exact tabs on the number of school
districts in the country that have resorted to student drug testing,
it appears to be a tiny, probably single digit, percentage of all
school districts.

"Nobody in the country has an absolute count," the US Department of
Education's Safe and Drug-Free Schools program, which would not
venture a guess, told DRCNet.

"We're not seeing any wholesale rush to drug testing," said Tom
Hutton, staff attorney for the National School Boards Association.
"We've seen a few programs that were on hold before the Supreme Court
decision get underway, but not much more than that," he told DRCNet.
"It's probably less than 10% of all districts," he estimated.

"It is not a big issue with our members," said Michael Carr, spokesman
for the National Association of Secondary School Principals. "We talk
to our members on a regular basis, and while certain regions of the
country are a bit more inclined to move forward than others, we
haven't seen a real shift toward drug testing," he told DRCNet.

Similar opinions issue from state school board associations, even in
states such as Alabama, where drug testing has been greeted with more
enthusiasm than elsewhere. At the slow rate schools are embracing drug
testing in Alabama, said Alabama School Board Association staff
attorney Susan Salter, it would take ten years for drug testing to
cover the entire state. "It has been a slow but steady march toward
drug testing ever since the Supreme Court decision," she told DRCNet.
"It is probably happening at the rate of about one district a month,
although these plans don't always fly. Sometime they don't get a good
reception from the community."

So why aren't the school districts embracing drug testing? "Budgets
are tight," suggested Hutton. "The money has been talked about, but
not appropriated yet, and schools have other priorities," he said. But
he also pointed to lingering mistrust of the administration among
educators over the No Child Left Behind program, which has caused
countless headaches for local administrators. "There is a lot of
persuasion coming from the feds, but in the context of No Child Left
Behind, if people think there is a little money to do this but lots of
strings attached, they won't think it's worth it," he said.

"Principals are like anyone else," said Carr. "Some think it's the
best thing to ensure the safety of the kids, but many others have
serious concerns over invasion of students' privacy, and principals
are worried about anything that could bring them a lawsuit," he said.
"While some are gung-ho, many principals are extremely leery of going
down that road. And even in places where they might be interested, the
funding is not there yet," he said.

Still, drug reformers and civil libertarians are not watching complacently.
Late last month, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and the ACLU's Drug Policy
Litigation Project kicked off a campaign to block the Bush administration
initiative by distributing a booklet, "Making Sense of Student Drug
Testing: Why Educators Are Saying No," describing drug testing's many
failings and suggesting alternatives to 24,000 school board members and
other educational stake-holders in selected states.

"Drug testing is humiliating, costly and ineffective, but it's an easy
anti-drug sound bite for the White House," said Judy Appel, Deputy
Director of Legal Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "'Making
Sense...' is for the people and educators across the country who've
got to make serious decisions about young people's safety. They need
the actual research, not slogans and junk science."

"We think the real push for drug testing will come when that $23
million Bush talked about begins to be disbursed through the Safe and
Drug-Free School Act," said DPA's Marsha Rosenbaum, whose involvement
with student drug issues includes development of the Safety First
( alternative drug education and prevention
strategy. "Without that money, I don't think it has the kind of allure
it will have once funding comes in," she told DRCNet. "It's an
expensive logistical nightmare, and schools would just rather not do

Also, Rosenbaum suggested, administrators may not see a need for it
because they accurately perceive the problem is not severe. "You would
think from listening to these proposals that there was a rampant
epidemic of out of control kids stumbling around campus all the time,
and that's just not true," she said. "The reality is that the problem
of kids coming to school intoxicated or running the risk of
endangering themselves during extracurricular activities because
they're intoxicated is not real."

And there are better alternatives, Rosenbaum said. "Drug abuse
prevention is about two things. First it's about good science-based,
honest, balanced drug education; and second, it's about forming
relationships with adults, with counselors, teachers and parents. It's
not rocket science," she said. "Drug testing sounds like the easy way
out, but that is so simplistic. What keeps kids from getting into
trouble with drugs is not a drug test but a good education, being
engaged in school, and having good relationships with parents and
other adults."

Visit or
for the "Making Sense" booklet or to learn more about the DPA/ACLU
campaign against student drug testing.

Read the White House's booklet on student drug testing at online. 
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