Pubdate: Fri, 06 May 2005
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA)
Copyright: 2005 PG Publishing
Author: Alana Semuels
Cited: Students for Sensible Drug Policy
Cited: Safety First
Bookmark: (Students - United States)
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)


A top federal anti-drug official came to Pittsburgh yesterday to extol the 
virtues of randomly testing students for drugs, a policy that few 
Pennsylvania school districts have embraced and some already have rejected.

At the third of four national summits on drug testing this year, deputy 
drug czar Mary Ann Solberg told school officials and community leaders that 
random student testing was an effective way to stop youth drug use.

"Our children need to grow up healthy and drug-free," she told those in the 
crowded room at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Coraopolis, emphasizing that a 
testing policy should be nonpunitive, confidential and part of a larger 
comprehensive program to prevent drug use.

In his State of the Union address this year, President Bush asked for $25.4 
million in grants for schools to develop or expand drug testing programs. 
Since then, officials from the Office of National Drug Control Policy have 
traveled the country, holding summits for parents and educators.

Testing can give students an excuse to stay away from drugs and resist peer 
pressure, and can help detect drug problems where they exist, said one 
speaker, Carl Selavka, director of the Massachusetts state police crime lab 

He said the testing can range from around $10 to $20 per urine test to $40 
for a hair-based test, and that typically 10 percent to 25 percent of a 
student population is tested per month.

After students are confidentially tested, they can get help without being 

The Bush administration says prevention programs have contributed to a 
decline in student drug use since 2001, and that random testing deters drug 
use. It is not mandating that any school district adopt its policies, but 
encourages communities to initiate drug testing.

That might not be so easy in Pennsylvania. While a U.S. Supreme Court 
ruling in 2002 gave schools more leeway to implement random student drug 
testing, a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling in 2003 made the legal issues 
a little less clear.

It found that requiring students to undergo testing to participate in 
extracurricular activities was only appropriate if schools could prove that 
an actual drug crisis existed.

Since the rulings, a handful of school districts in the Pittsburgh area, 
including Shaler Area and Baldwin-Whitehall, have discussed, then 
dismissed, adopting a student drug testing policy. The Canon-McMillan 
School District in Canonsburg abandoned its program in 2004.

A few districts have established such policies, including Seneca Valley, 
which adopted mandatory drug testing three years ago. Each student who 
participates in activities or athletics or drives to school must be tested 
at the beginning of the school year, and then can be randomly tested 
throughout the year..

Assistant Principal Mark Draskovich said he's had parents come in and say 
that they've seen a difference in their children's attitudes, but he was 
not able to say if the district's drug problem had receded.

Children "at least have a reason to say 'no,' " to drugs, said Draskovich. 
"A lot of kids are just looking for that."

But opponents argue that testing also can drive students away from these 

They say that the largest study of the issue ever done found that school 
districts with testing policies had no less illegal drug use than those 
that did not.

The potential invasiveness of drug testing and the costs associated with it 
can hurt schools, said Tom Angell, spokesman for Students for Sensible Drug 
Policy, a youth organization that opposes mandatory drug testing.

"If students are forced into bathroom stalls, it can go a long way in 
damaging relationships of trust," he said. "And $25.4 million can be much 
better spent on adopting more effective drug-education programs."

The duty of keeping children off drugs should fall to the parents, argued 
Marsha Rosenbaum, director of the Safety First drug education program at 
the Drug Policy Alliance.

"My argument is, let parents do their jobs," she said.

Some school districts have taken it upon themselves to do just that.

In a pilot program in Portage, Pa., students can choose whether or not they 
want to participate in random testing.

This year, 314 students, out of a possible 402, in grades eight to 12 
participated. Every month, a handful of these students are randomly 
selected to be screened. None has ever tested positive.

The participants, who numbered just 35 in 2000, get incentives for being in 
the program, said Debbie Fowler, president of Remembering ADAM, the 
nonprofit organization that provides funding.

She found her son Adam dead from a heroin overdose in 1998. Since then, 
she's been passionately crusading to prevent others from going through the 
same experience.

But she is not sure if mandatory random student testing is the best way to 
keep children from doing drugs.

"I'd rather see a school district aggressively support a volunteer 
program," she said. "It's better communication with students when they 
voluntarily come into a program." 
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