Pubdate: Thu, 21 Feb 2008
Source: Knoxville News-Sentinel (TN)
Copyright: 2008 The Knoxville News-Sentinel Co.
Author: Tom Humphrey


House Committee Approves Measure That Would Affect Only  Some

NASHVILLE - Tennessee school systems could conduct  random drug tests
of all students involved in  extracurricular activities, under
legislation approved  by the House Education Committee after lengthy
debate  on Wednesday.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that such random  testing is
permissible, but a 2007 state attorney  general's opinion states that
current state law  prohibits it.

Under present Tennessee law, a student may be tested  for drugs only
if there is a "reasonable individualized  suspicion" that the
youngster has used illegal drugs,  Stephen Smith, lobbyist for the
Tennessee School Boards  Association, told the panel.

Before the attorney general opinion was issued, at  least two school
systems - in Shelby and Warren  counties - had implemented random drug
testing for  students involved in athletics or other activities,  Smith said.

Those programs are in jeopardy, he said, adding that  other systems
may want to implement a random  drug-testing policy and that the bill,
HB2858, would  clear the way.

"Parents, and even students, are very supportive of  these programs,"
he said. "If we can prevent even one  student from using drugs, we
feel this would be a good  move to make."

Knox County schools do not have a random drug-testing  policy,
according to system spokesman Russ Oaks.

The bill was criticized by some lawmakers.

Rep. Larry Turner, D-Memphis, said that random drug  tests would
"drive a wedge of distrust" between  students and their teachers,
coaches and other school  staff.

Rep. Ulysses Jones, D-Memphis, said it struck him as  unfair to make
students involved in extracurricular  activities subject to random
testing when others -  perhaps including "gang members walking around
the  school" - are not.

Rep. Barbara Cooper, D-Memphis, questioned whether the  test would
involve "sticking kids with a needle."

The bill's sponsor, committee Chairman Les Winningham,  D-Huntsville,
said the tests would only be of urine  samples.

He said there are no court decisions declaring random  testing for all
students as valid. The Supreme Court  rulings state that requiring
tests as a condition for  involvement in extracurricular activity is
permissible  but left open the question of whether all youngsters -
required to be in school by compulsory attendance laws  - could be
subject to testing.

In response to questions from lawmakers, Smith and  Chuck Cagle, a
lawyer who specializes in representing  school systems, said the
results of random testing  would be kept confidential and cannot be
used for  criminal prosecutions.

"These policies are put into place to help students,  not to punish
them," said Cagle, adding that a positive  result would trigger
counseling and rehabilitation  efforts.

The bill ultimately was approved on voice vote, with  only Turner
officially asking to be recorded as voting  no. It now goes to the
Finance Committee. Sen. Jim  Tracy, R-Shelbyville, is sponsoring the
bill in the  Senate, where it awaits a Senate Education Committee

In contrast, a bill to require random drug tests of  teachers,
principals and other school staff apparently  is going nowhere.

The bill, HB2777, was slated for a vote in subcommittee  Wednesday,
but the sponsor, Rep. William Baird,  R-Jacksboro, said he has decided
not to push it. Baird  said the cost to school systems in a tight
budget year  likely means the measure cannot pass.

Baird said the bill was inspired by the arrest of a  Campbell County
teacher on methamphetamine charges.

Jerry Winters, lobbyist for the Tennessee Education  Association, said
the teachers organization opposed the  measure as "insulting to
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