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Random Drug Testing in schools

For more than a year now, local schools have debated the merits of subjecting students to random drug tests.

Administrators at North Summit High School and South Summit High School both discussed the idea, often with community support. If instituted, students involved in after-school activities at any of these schools could be subject to DNA tests using hair or other materials to determine their history of drug use.

A continuing national issue, the Federal government brought the merits of drug testing to the greater region recently. Last week, the community of Pagosa Springs, Colorado invited the Federal government to their town to explain the legality in the United States for random student drug testing.

According Stephen Schatz and the Office of National Drug Control Policy, random drug testing has been common practice in the United States since the 1980’s. Despite that historical precedence, people in Pagosa Springs wanted to discuss the merits of creating their own program in the region as did other attendees from throughout the Southwest.

The greatest concern echoed by most at the meeting revolved around the constitutionality of random drug testing, said Schatz. The NDCP said that a Supreme Court Decision made in 2002, the third case of its kind, established the legality of random testing in high schools making it not only constitutional, but providing a groundwork for Federal grants to fund the inception of such programs.

Another typical issue concerning drug testing is the likelihood that any student caught could face expulsion or other severe academic consequences. However, the precedence set for drug testing provides only for students involved in extracurricular activities to be eligible for testing. Furthermore, the ruling also established that the results of tests are to be shared specifically with high school counselors and parents, but that no academic consequences could be upheld.

Administration of these tests varies greatly by region and the availability of certain types of technology. Some types of tests can determine drug use with only a strand of hair. Test methodology can also vary by the objective of the study. Although steroids might seem a logical test for athletes, random sweeps could just as logically and easily search for methamphetamine use.

The technique and goal of each test, as well as the administration of punishments for those found non-negative, is determined by each individual school and district in most cases according to the NDCP. The NDCP points to around 4,100 schools nationwide that implement some form of random student drug testing. To illustrate the success of such schools, the NDCP brought administrators for a New Jersey institution as well as from another Colorado school. Some schools even hold elective testing that asks students to voluntarily sign up for random tests of their own accord.

The NDCP holds these summit meetings four or five times a year usually at their own schedule, the Pagosa Springs meeting was somewhat unusual because the community actually invited the NDCP as a means of having their questions answered about possible programs.

Even more locally, the North Summit School District went through this process not long ago. Spurred by the death of one of their students, community members strove to find a solution to underage alcohol and drug abuse. Random drug testing was one of the avenues they explored.

Consistent with information from the NDCP, North Summit contemplated instituting testing only with school and state approved after-school activities. Ultimately, the committee asked to investigate the utility of these programs found that many of the students involved in these activities were not really the ones at risk anyway.

After thorough discussions on the subject, North Summit School District turned the investigation committee into a drug awareness committee. According to Superintendent Steve Carlsen, this would allow them to reach more students and spread the message more accurately.

Carlsen said that random drug testing will not be out of the question. He is just waiting for a better and more inclusive precedent to be set by another school in the United States.

South Summit High School, on the other hand, is waiting for a local district to act as their precedence. We are "waiting to see what some other bigger districts do (so that we can) take what they have and refine it for our purposes," said Principal Gary Twitchell. His hope, as well as that of the local community, is to refine a program and use it as a deterrent for students to stay away from drugs.


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