Newsbrief: Bush's School Drug Testing Initiative Prompts House Bill to Begin Random Testing of School Kids 1/30/04

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In his State of the Union address last week, President Bush called for spending $23 million to encourage the nation's public schools to drug test students. It didn't take long for the presidential initiative to bear its first strange fruit. On January 22, three drug-fighting congressmen, Rep. John Peterson (R-PA), Tom Osborne (R-NE) and Mark Souder (R-IN) introduced legislation that would potentially extend drug testing to include random tests of all students.

According to the bill, grants would be given to school districts for "Drug-Free School Demonstration Programs." But funds would only be granted to districts that met a series of requirements. The first requirement listed is that the program "includes, consistent with the fourth amendment to the Constitution of the United States, random drug testing of students." The US Supreme Court has upheld the testing of student athletes and students involved in extracurricular activities, but has not addressed the constitutionality of random drug tests of all students. The Peterson-Osborne-Souder bill would, if passed, almost certainly generate a challenge that would end up before the nation's highest court.

"This is about helping kids," Peterson said. "In my view, I'd like to see everybody tested."

The bill, The Empowering Parents and Teachers for a Drug Free Education Act (H.R. 3720) would set guidelines for testing accuracy, test result confidentiality, and would require parental consent -- but parents would have to proactively opt out of the program if they did not want their children to be submitted to drug testing. The bill would not allow schools to turn drug test results over to law enforcement, and test results would be destroyed after the students left school.

"Drug testing was used in the military to reduce the once rampant drug problem, and is a way of life in the workplace," said Peterson. "Drug testing is already being used in some schools to effectively reduce drug use because young people know that if they do drugs, they will get caught. By helping schools implement effective drug testing programs, we can give kids a reason to say no to drugs and give parents a report card that may help save their child's life."

"As a former coach and educator," said Rep. Osborne, "I have seen first hand that student drug testing can be used as a powerful preventive measure. For many youth, the possibility of being tested for drugs is reason enough to deter them from using drugs."

But, as we reported last week (http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/321/drugtesting.shtml), Monitoring the Future, the annual survey of drug-taking habits among 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-graders, found that "drug testing of students in schools does not deter drug use. The research findings challenge the premise that has been central to the rationale for schools adopting a drug testing policy." According to the statement, investigators found "virtually identical" drug use rates at schools that tested and schools that don't. The finding hold true across grade levels, the research found.

But, hey, let's not let science get in the way of feel-good policymaking.

Visit http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c108:H.R.3720: to read the bill online.

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