Pubdate: Sun, 23 Nov 2008
Source: New York Times (NY)
Page: NJ4
Copyright: 2008 The New York Times Company
Author: Michael Winerip
Bookmark: (Students - United States)
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)


BASKING RIDGE, N.J. - "I don't want it misunderstood," said Lynn 
Evelyn, 52, the mother of three teenage girls. "I'm not in favor of 
kids using drugs or alcohol.

"My approach is to tell them: 'I don't want you to do it. I think 
it's absolutely the wrong kind of behavior for adolescents to engage 
in. But if you do choose at some point to experiment' - and my girls 
are all social - I talk about how, in our own family, there's a 
history of alcohol dependency. They know my older brother died of 
drug addiction."

Her oldest daughter is now a college freshman, but last year, when 
she was a senior, a few times she came home after drinking heavily, 
the mother said, and they talked. "I made it clear this upset me," 
Ms. Evelyn said. " I didn't expect this to be a regular thing."

The mother supports what's called "suspicion-based testing" - testing 
students if they appear to be impaired at school. "Kids shouldn't go 
to school drunk or high," she said. "It's not just the school's right 
to test, it's the school's responsibility."

Indeed, last year officials at Ridge High here tested 23 students 
suspected of being impaired at school, with 15 testing positive for 
drugs or alcohol, according to Chad Gillikin, a school counselor. 
This year, seven have been tested, with three registering positive, he said.

And that is where Ms. Evelyn believes the school's role stops. "Any 
more testing is an invasion of privacy," she said.

This has put her at odds with many school officials in this wealthy 
suburb, including Mr. Gillikin. He is the co-chairman of a study 
committee that wants to implement a random drug screening program 
that would test 15 percent of Ridge High's students each year to 
monitor their behavior when they're not in school.

"Schools we've visited that do random drug testing, it's very 
impressive," said Mr. Gillikin. "They say it's changed the youth 
culture in their communities."

Ms. Evelyn countered: "This is a parent's responsibility, not the 
school's. It shows an unwillingness to teach kids the real-life 
skills they need to resist drug and alcohol abuse. And it doesn't 
even get at the bigger problem - which is alcohol, not drugs."

Since the Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that schools could randomly 
test students participating in sports and clubs, 7 percent of the 
nation's high schools and middle schools - 4,200 of an estimated 
59,364 - have implemented random testing, mostly for drugs, according 
to a 2007 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study. New 
Jersey has taken an aggressive approach, with 27 districts testing 
for drugs, as well as the state's high school athletic association.

Starting in 2006, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic 
Association began randomly testing high school athletes competing in 
state tournaments for performance-enhancing drugs. Of the 1,000 
student-athletes screened so far, 2 have tested positive - both for 
steroids, according to Bob Baly, the association's assistant director.

The proposed random drug testing plan for Ridge High is similar to 
ones already in place at the 27 other New Jersey school districts. 
Any students wanting to play a sport, join a club or get a parking 
permit - about 80 percent of Ridge High's 1,600 kids - would have to 
consent to random testing or would not be able to participate.

About seven kids a week would be selected by computer and called to 
the nurse's office to urinate in a cup. Students testing positive 
would not miss school, nor would results appear on their transcripts. 
They would have to take part in counseling with their parents and 
miss two weeks from their team or club.

This contrasts with suspicion-based testing now being done at Ridge 
High, which typically results in a five-day school suspension and may 
involve calling in the police.

"The random testing isn't meant to be punitive," said Mr. Gillikin. 
"It's meant to help families work these things out." He estimates 
random drug testing would cost no more than $5,000 a year.

His committee has spent two years studying the issue, including 
making visits to five districts that do testing. The 18 committee 
members - virtually all school officials here in Bernards Township - 
voted unanimously to recommend random drug testing. Mr. Gillikin 
acknowledges that during the two years, his group could find no 
academic research indicating that random testing reduces student drug use.

"The evidence we have is anecdotal from other districts that say it 
works," he said. "More research does need to be done."

Indeed, one of the few academic studies, conducted by the University 
of Michigan at 900 schools in 2003, found no evidence that testing 
lowered drug abuse. Nor is the medical community particularly 
supportive. A 2006 survey of physicians found 83 percent opposed drug 
testing in public schools, and a 2007 report by the American Academy 
of Pediatrics recommended against testing because, it said, there has 
been little research on the effectiveness, and such testing can breed 
"distrust and suspicion" among students, school officials and parents.

In her effort to derail random testing, Ms. Evelyn has unearthed an 
all-but-forgotten 2005 study done here by the township's Board of 
Health and its Municipal Alliance Against Substance Abuse.

That study described this community as prosperous ($135,000 median 
family income) and full of two-parent households (85 percent compared 
with a national average of 67 percent). Its children get so much 
support at home and school and feel so good about themselves, the 
report's author noted, that "statistically there isn't much room for 

That study surveyed about half of 10th and 12th graders at Ridge High 
and did identify a substance abuse problem, although it was not 
illegal drugs. It was alcohol, which, the report said, was 
particularly a problem among athletes. "Programs targeting this group 
may be worthwhile," the report said.

The report's author, Dr. Kirk Harlow, a professor at Midwestern State 
University in Wichita Falls, Tex., was asked in a phone interview why 
he hadn't focused on drug use. "It just wasn't as prevalent there, 
it's not as big an issue," he said. "I've been working in the public 
health field 30 years, and alcohol remains our No. 1 substance abuse problem."

Indeed, the district's own surveys of Ridge High students over the 
last decade have found the rate of alcohol abuse to be two to three 
times the rate of drug abuse.

Asked about this, Mr. Gillikin said that in response to the 2005 
report, the district had helped create a coaches' manual on alcohol 
and drug use that is intended to teach student-athletes healthy 

As to why his committee isn't pushing for random alcohol testing, Mr. 
Gillikin said that districts the members visited advised them to go 
slow, perfect the random drug testing system first and then maybe 
take on alcohol.

Ms. Evelyn's middle daughter, Hannah, 17, a junior at Ridge High, 
suspects there is another reason the committee has demurred when it 
comes to alcohol. "There'd be an uprising," she said. "Most kids 
drink on the weekend - they'd definitely be more against it if they 
went after alcohol."

The school board is expected to vote on the matter in mid-December.
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