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July 5, 2004 - The Sacramento Bee (CA)

Drug Tests In Schools A Hot Issue

Bill Would Make Random Testing Illegal And Require 'Reasonable Suspicion.'

By Jim Sanders, Bee Capitol Bureau

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Even if Carl Santa Elena gets straight A's, he can't participate in Dixon High School sports unless he agrees to urinate in a jar upon demand.

Such policies have sparked a political fight in California, pitting anti-drug activists against civil libertarians.

At a time when President Bush is pushing to expand random student drug testing nationwide, state lawmakers might ban the practice.

Proponents hail random testing as a way to detect drug use before addiction, but critics call such programs an invasion of privacy.

Legislation to bar random testing, SB 1386, recently passed the state Senate 27-10 and is pending in the Assembly. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has not taken a position on the bill.

Santa Elena, an 18-year-old who has participated on tennis, cross country and other school teams, doesn't object to random testing.

"I think most of the athletes in Dixon High don't really care whether they get tested," he said. "They know they shouldn't be using drugs."

But Andrew Bogue, 15, said the message he gets from the school's testing program is that students aren't trusted.

Hilga Quiroz, 16, said the program "doesn't bother me" and that "it gives a reason for athletes to say no to drugs" during the sports season.

But Quiroz said some students simply switch from drugs to alcohol, which is not detected by the school's testing program.

SB 1386, the California bill to ban random drug testing, largely has split lawmakers along party lines, with most Republicans opposed.

The measure would require "reasonable suspicion" before schools could test a student for alcohol, marijuana, methamphetamines or other intoxicants. Reasonable suspicion could not be based on rumor, hunch, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or various other factors, including evidence of drug use among a student's family or peers.

Separate legislation to crack down on student use of steroids initially called for random tests but is being amended to require reasonable suspicion.

Sen. John Vasconcellos, a Santa Clara Democrat who proposed SB 1386, called random testing a horrifying and grotesque practice.

"Our children are precious, not big pawns of politicians," he said.

Random testing is expensive, ineffective, can produce false positives, can drive students away from extracurricular activities, and can undermine trust between students and administrators, supporters of SB 1386 say.

"When you begin to randomly test everyone, you tell young people that you are a criminal until proven otherwise," said Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, a Los Angeles Democrat and former longtime high school teacher.

Attorney General Bill Lockyer said he considers random drug testing a violation of constitutional rights, despite U.S. Supreme Court rulings to the contrary. Students are entitled to basic privacy protections and a prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures, Lockyer said.

"That's what these random drug tests amount to, in my view," Lockyer said.

Middle and high schools can require urine, hair, saliva or other samples, depending upon the testing kit chosen by campuses and the drugs to be detected through testing.

Critics of SB 1386 say that requiring reasonable suspicion will thwart prevention efforts by waiting until students display visible signs of intoxication before officials take action.

"We should be moving toward a proactive approach instead of a reactive approach," said Assemblywoman Bonnie Garcia, R-Cathedral City.

Carla Lowe, a longtime anti-drug activist, said random drug tests - like airport screening machines - pose a minor inconvenience that potentially can save numerous lives.

"I think the right to life for a kid overshadows the civil rights issue," Lowe said.

Random testing treats everyone equally, without placing teachers in the uncomfortable position of having to document suspicions of drug use before a school can intervene, Lowe said.

"I don't want to be a drug cop," said Lowe, a former teacher in the San Juan Unified School District. "I want to have a safe, positive environment so I can do my best at bringing a kid to his full potential."

The U.S. Supreme Court supported random testing of student athletes in a 1995 ruling and expanded its approval to other extracurricular activities two years ago.

Bush, in his State of the Union address, proposed spending an additional $23 million on random student testing nationwide.

Dr. Andrea Barthwell, deputy director of the Bush administration's Office of National Drug Control Policy, testified against SB 1386 at a recent legislative hearing.

Statistics are not readily available on the number of California school districts that require random drug tests in middle or high schools.

Dixon High's testing program is a rarity among Sacramento-area campuses.

Principal Brian Dolan said the school is trying to inform and assist - not penalize - athletes who use drugs.

Dixon students who flunk a random drug test are not suspended or expelled from classes. They must participate in a drug education or intervention program for at least six weeks, and cannot play in their team's games for one month.

Last year, 525 students signed up for Dixon High sports and about 125 were randomly tested. None tested positive for drugs, Dolan said.

Typically, two or three drug users a year are caught through the urine tests, he said.

The program costs between $11,000 and $15,000 annually, including staff costs.

Dolan said the message to students is that Dixon High cares about their well-being: "We value you, and we're willing to spend our time and money to help you make better choices and remain safe and healthy."

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