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Random Drug Test Ban OK'd

 

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Source: Modesto Bee, The (CA)
Author: Eric Stern, Bee Capitol Bureau
Published: Thursday, June 24, 2004
Copyright: 2004 The Modesto Bee
Contact: [email protected]
Website: http://www.modbee.com/

Sacramento -- Bret Harte Union High School in Angels Camp probably will stop testing student-athletes for drugs if a legislative effort to ban random checks becomes law, Superintendent Joseph Wilimek said Wednesday.

Senate Bill 1386 would allow a test only if there is "reasonable suspicion" that a student is using drugs. The measure advanced out of the Assembly Education Committee on Wednesday and is close to reaching Gov. Schwarzenegger's desk. The measure needs final approval from the full Assembly; the Senate already passed it.

Wilimek, whose Calaveras County high school is the only one in the Northern San Joaquin Valley and foothills with a random drug-testing program, said the bill would open up too many legal and public relations challenges if a student is wrongly singled out for a drug test.

Random tests are more fair, he said.

"I'm not sure that we have the ability to say this kid is on (drugs) and this kid isn't," he said. "We're going to get accused of all kinds of other things."

But Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, D-Los Angeles, who co-wrote the bill, said it's easy to spot drug use.

"You come into class, your eyes are red, you're falling asleep, you're slurring your speech, you can't stand up when the bell rings, and yesterday you weren't like that," said Goldberg, a former high school teacher.

"Reasonable suspicion" is defined in the bill as "rational inferences" not based on "curiosity, rumor or hunch."

Under the bill, schools also could not target students for drug tests because of race, gender, sexual orientation, or suspicion of drug use among friends or family members.

Random drug testing, while not widespread in California schools, is a practice that has been upheld by U.S. Supreme Court decisions. Sen. John Vasconcellos, D-Santa Clara, who co-wrote the bill, said state guidelines need to be in place to protect students' privacy and integrity.

Bret Harte's random-testing program for athletes and cheerleaders has been in existence for a year. Wilimek wants it to continue, calling the program a deterrent against drug use. 

Transgressors get counseling

Five of the 532 students tested had positive results, mostly for marijuana, Wilimek said. The students were not disciplined.

Instead, they attended off-campus drug counseling sessions, then passed a subsequent drug test, he said. 

But the idea has not gained much momentum elsewhere, even in Modesto schools, where more than 40 students were swept up in an April drug bust.

"Right now, that isn't something we're looking at seriously," said Marlin Sumpter, Modesto City Schools director of child welfare and attendance. He said there are concerns about balancing the privacy of all students while trying to track down only a few drug users.

Attorney General Bill Lockyer echoed that concern Wednesday, saying random drug testing is "used to step on young people's personal freedom." He supports Goldberg's bill.

President Bush, who has set aside $25 million in his proposed budget to encourage schools to adopt random drug-testing programs, dispatched his deputy drug czar to try to fend off Goldberg's legislation.

Andrea Barthwell, deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said the "reasonable suspicion" standard doesn't work because drug users learn how to hide their behavior.

Random testing exposes it, and the risk of getting caught is enough for students to stand up to "intense pressure" from other students, she said.


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