Pubdate: Mon, 05 Jul 2004
Source: Ventura County Star (CA)
Copyright: 2004, The E.W. Scripps Co.
Author: Timm Herdt
Bookmark: (Drug Test)
Bookmark: Bookmark: (Students - United States)
Bookmark: (Walters, John)
Bookmark: (Youth)


Officials Debate If Programs Will Be Random or Voluntary

SACRAMENTO -- Responding to the community's cries for action in the
wake of the drug-overdose deaths of two young people in 2002, the Ojai
Unified School District last year implemented a voluntary drug testing
program at Nordhoff High. It works like this: Parents and students
must agree to allow the testing, there are no consequences for
declining, and testing results are revealed only to the families.

More than 100 families signed up, and the popularity of the program
was such that the school board voted to expand it in the coming school
year to include seventh- and eighth-graders as well.

The drug-testing program has been well received, said Assistant
Superintendent Jim Berube, both because of what it is -- voluntary and
therapeutic -- and because of what it is not -- random and punitive.

Berube was instrumental in designing the voluntary program and is an
unabashed supporter. What does he think of the idea of random drug
testing, where as a condition of participation in athletics or other
extracurricular activities, all students must agree to be tested?

"I don't like that at all," he said.

Across the nation, thousands of other school districts, empowered by a
recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that expanded their authority to
test for drugs, are addressing the questions the community of Ojai
asked of its school officials in late 2002. Should schools be testing
kids for drug use and, if so, how should the tests be conducted and
which students should be tested?

President Is Supporter

President Bush, who declared in his State of the Union address that
random drug testing in schools has contributed to a decline in
adolescent drug use, has proposed a tenfold increase in federal
funding to support testing programs. Federal Drug Czar John Walters
calls random testing "a powerful new tool for controlling one of the
worst threats facing kids today."

In Sacramento, however, legislators appear on the verge of passing a
law that would end community-level debates over random drug tests in
California schools. A bill that would bar their use statewide has
passed the Senate and advanced to the Assembly floor. A final vote
will likely be taken next month.

Critics in the Legislature say random drug testing is intrusive,
ineffective and expensive; will discourage students from participating
in after-school activities; and will create a culture of suspicion
that sends a disturbing message to students.

"The real message is, 'We don't trust you. We think you're all doing
drugs,' " said Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, D-Los Angeles, who for
20 years taught in inner-city Los Angeles high schools. "Drug use was
pretty high, but nothing would have hurt our awful situation more than

Citing a study by the federal government's leading researcher on
adolescent drug use that showed no difference in the use of illicit
drugs among students who attend schools that test for drugs and those
who attend schools that do not, the state director of the Drug Policy
Alliance said testing programs are an expensive waste of time.

"It's an example of a feel-good program that doesn't work," said Glenn
Backes, whose organization is the sponsor of the legislation, SB 1386.

No Tests Without Suspicion

The bill would expressly allow suspicion-based testing, authorizing
school officials to test a student when they have "articulable
reasons" to suspect that he or she may be using drugs. It would also
allow voluntary programs such as the one in Ojai to continue, as long
as they are truly voluntary and the results of tests are kept tightly

Deputy Drug Czar Andrea Barthwell came from Washington, D.C., last
month to testify in Sacramento against the bill. She argued that
random drug testing is preferable to suspicion-based tests.

"Suspicionless testing eliminates the potential for teachers to act
arbitrarily and eliminates the badge of shame of being tested," she

California would be acting irresponsibly if it outlaws random drug
tests, she argued.

Knowing that they might be subjected to a test, Barthwell said, gives
students a powerful incentive to stay away from drugs. "It changes
their risk-benefit analysis toward rejecting drug use rather than
accepting drug use. It stiffens their spines. ... Parents will hold
schools accountable if you deny them access to this life- and
future-saving tool."

All sides in the debate over drug testing agree that drug use among
teens is a serious problem and that schools have a role in combatting
it. Beyond that, said Ventura County Superintendent of Schools Charles
Weis, there are no easy answers.

"In Ventura County, it is the No. 1 problem," Weis said. "We're losing
kids to drug use. Whether the strategy of random testing is right, I
don't know. It's a difficult debate. ... Young people's drug use is a
complex problem and requires a complex solution."

The degree of difficulty in the debate was reflected in two narrow
U.S. Supreme Court decisions handed down in 1995 and 2002. The first
held that random drug testing of athletes was constitutional; the
second expanded schools' authority to include random testing of
students who participate in other extracurricular activities.

Both cases were decided on 5-4 votes.

Writing for the majority in the most recent case, Justice Clarence
Thomas wrote that students who participate in extracurricular
activities have only "a limited expectation of privacy" and that
schools are justified in intruding upon that privacy because they have
a duty to "deter the substantial harm of childhood drug use."

In dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg notes while there may be
safety reasons to require testing of student athletes, to test those
engaged in other activities is not only intrusive, but could also be

"Nationwide, students who participate in extracurricular activities
are significantly less likely to develop substance abuse problems than
are their less-involved peers," she wrote. "Even if students might be
deterred from drug use in order to preserve their extracurricular
eligibility, it is at least as likely that other students might forgo
their extracurricular involvement in order to avoid detection of their
drug use ... (Random testing) risks steering students at greatest risk
for substance abuse away from extracurricular involvement that
potentially may palliate drug problems."

Rights of Students

Supporters of the California bill believe the court majority's
decision did not adequately safeguard the privacy rights of students.

"Students in California enjoy the protections of our basic,
fundamental rights," said Attorney General Bill Lockyer.
"Well-intended, anti-drug perspectives are being used to step on young
people's personal 
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