Pubdate: Tue, 23 May 2006
Source: Peoria Journal Star (IL)
Copyright: 2006sPeoria Journal Star
Note: Does not publish letters from outside our circulation area.
Bookmark: (D.A.R.E.)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Drug Test)
Bookmark: (Youth)


Nearly 6,300 central Illinois students recently made their DARE 
pledge to steer clear of drugs and alcohol. Despite such 
substance-education programs, federal surveys indicate that well over 
half of adolescents try booze and nearly half dabble in drugs.

The challenge for schools, then, is to target students when they're 
old enough to decide but young enough to fear punishment. To this 
end, East Peoria High School will randomly drug-test teens who 
participate in extracurricular activities.

The School Board's 4-3 vote earned accolades, but it also merits a 
word of caution. Testing is not a panacea and is no substitute for 
attentive, responsible parents.

The school's desire to intervene is understandable. Besides booze and 
pot, there's an ever-expanding menu of teen temptations, especially 
prescription drugs. East Peoria High can check for such substances 
through saliva strips or urine tests and pledges to do so on a 
"purely random" basis.

As a public school, East Peoria can't survey its entire student body 
of 1,300, as private Peoria Notre Dame does. The 500 kids it can test 
- - those involved in baseball, chess, cheerleading, etc. - may be 
least likely to experiment with drugs. Those points were raised in a 
2002 U.S. Supreme Court case. Though the justices narrowly upheld the 
legality of random urine tests, dissenters worried they might 
discourage participation, which can itself be a drug deterrent. The 
case also raised important privacy issues.

Indeed, what happens after a positive test? East Peoria says the 
punishment will be lost extracurricular eligibility. Kids will not 
face criminal prosecution. But attorney Jay Greening, who helped 
draft the school's policy, says it remains constitutionally unclear 
whether administrators could call police based solely on a test 
result. He asserts that tests will remain "absolutely confidential," 
which is appropriate.

East Peoria will be one of only three dozen Illinois school districts 
with mandatory substance screenings, which suggests that 95 percent 
of the others lack either the resources or inclination to follow 
suit. Though it may be legal to test, that doesn't necessarily make 
it right or effective. A 2003 University of Michigan survey of 76,000 
adolescents found almost identical rates of substance use regardless 
of whether their schools tested.

We appreciate that these policies can give parents peace of mind. 
Still, we prefer the voluntary, tough-love approach of Bartonville, 
which distributes at-home drug and alcohol tests to families. Engaged 
moms and dads are the most effective deterrent. To the degree schools 
can back them up in a fair, caring and constitutional way, it merits 
community support. Still, it's a shame it has come to this.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman