Pubdate: Thu, 19 May 2005
Source: Eagle-Tribune, The (MA)
Copyright: 2005 The Eagle-Tribune
Author: Shawn Regan
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)
Note: Headline in print edition is: Money for tests pleases backers, Wood
hopes governor's plan will boost his idea


HAVERHILL - School Committee member Scott W. Wood Jr. says the governor's
proposal to give schools money for student drug testing will strengthen
efforts to bring testing to Haverhill High School.

Wood said there are two major concerns among critics on a task force
studying ways to fight drug use among teenagers: How the cash-starved school
district would pay for testing and follow-up counseling, and whether the
district could defend a legal challenge or lawsuit resulting from such a
program. "It definitely adds credibility that the governor and lieutenant
governor think drug testing is a good idea," said Wood, the chairman of the
task force. "It's also helpful that more and more communities are looking at
this." Most members of Wood's task force have said they are not inclined to
support drug testing. They have raised concerns over the legalities, costs
and impacts that testing would have on relationships between teachers and
students. This week Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey unveiled Gov. Mitt Romney's
proposal to give about $100,000 to each school participating in testing.
About $20,000 would pay for the tests, which would require parental consent.
The remaining $80,000 would pay for substance abuse counseling.

Romney is seeking $9.1 million for the program, which would trigger an
additional $14.5 million in matching federal money. Healey said the program
is part of a new strategy to halt youth addiction to OxyContin, heroin and
other drugs. At a press conference Monday, Healey said the administration is
confident voluntary drug testing of students would withstand a legal
challenge. Wood said the state would have to answer any remaining legal
questions before giving out money. "Funding and legal issues are the two
main concerns, and the governor is solving both of them for us," Wood said.

Wood, a 2001 Haverhill High School graduate, pushed for the task force
because he believes drug use is on the rise at Haverhill High, based on his
own knowledge and the results of a student survey.

The task force has been meeting for four months and will likely make
recommendations in the fall, Wood said. In addition to coming out either
against or for drug testing, Wood said the task force will also suggest ways
to improve the school district's drug education curriculum.

The results of Haverhill's youth risk survey, released three months ago,
showed 19 percent of students surveyed - or about one in five - had tried a
hard drug in their life, up from 17 percent in 2003 and 15 percent in 2002.
Thirteen percent said they had used one of those drugs in the previous 30
days - up from 8 percent in 2002 and 9 percent in 2003.

Healey said the new anti-drug strategy plan relies on information she
gathered over the past year by traveling across the state to meet with
school officials, parents, health care advocates and law enforcement
personnel. Other information came from regional discussions led by Essex
County District Attorney Jonathan W. Blodgett, she said. Blodgett does not
support drug testing students.
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