Subsidized Student Drug Testing Bill 'One Heck of a Slippery Slope'

July 7, 2008 - 7:03 PM

( - A Republican congressman said on Thursday he plans to introduce a bill that would give schools financial and technical assistance to conduct random student drug tests, but critics call the measure "one heck of a slippery slope."

"As long as there is a demand for illegal drugs, there will be dealers eager to make a profit selling drugs to our children," said Rep. John Peterson (R-Pa.). "We must focus on reducing demand, and one of the most effective ways to accomplish this is through random drug testing."

Peterson is a member of the Speaker's Task Force for a Drug Free America, and he supports a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding the right of public schools to require random drug tests of students who participate in extracurricular activities. On June 27, 2002, the Supreme Court ruled that the schools' interest in combating drug use outweighs an individual's right to privacy.

Peterson said that schools get some funding through the Safe and Drug-Free Schools program, but he added, "This funding is limited and many schools lack the technical expertise to start up these programs.

"While schools have access to some funding, my legislation will give schools additional resources to develop and implement random drug testing programs," he said.

Peterson's bill would authorize $100 million in grants and technical assistance to help schools develop and implement student drug-testing programs, and it would help school districts tap into funds available for drug testing through the No Child Left Behind Act.

It would also provide drug and alcohol prevention programs for students, parents and teachers, as well as offer assistance programs for students in need of counseling or treatment.

The measure would include guidelines to ensure the accuracy of drug-testing methods, the confidentiality of student test results, and parental control. Local communities, however, would be responsible for implementing their own drug testing policy.

Critics object

But allowing the federal government to subsidize student drug testing angers critics.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, which filed a brief before the Supreme Court arguing against random drug testing in schools, said the measure is "one heck of a slippery slope."

"There's a term that's oft used in Washington, D.C., and in legal circles...but in this case it seems awfully applicable to describe this [situation], said Allan St. Pierre, executive director of NORML. "If it's not a slippery slope, [it] at least would be a pretty steep angle of repose," he said.

According to St. Pierre, over a 10-year period, the courts have broadened drug testing "from a very narrow group of students to, in the latest court decision, any of those which would seek any extracurricular activity - from the chess club to Future Farmers of America to student athletics."

St. Pierre said the lure of federal money might prompt states and municipalities to "move in a direction that they might not otherwise go."

In addition, St. Pierre said, the bill encourages the "abdication of parents' and children's responsibility."

"Parents, any parent in America, can go into any drug store or a WalMart and buy a drug test, and it is completely within their purview and prerogative to drug test their children in the morning [and] in the afternoon," he said. "That is absolutely not a function of the federal government. And taxpayer dollars should not be used in such a situation."

The National Education Association, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief against student drug testing in the recent U.S. Supreme Court case, also opposes to the measure, although the NEA said the anticipated bill "does seem to be addressing one of the concerns that we have over the cost of doing such tests."

However, "our opposition to this blanket drug testing goes far beyond that," said NEA spokesperson Kathleen Lyons.

"Extracurricular activity students, for example, are least likely to be involved in such things, and just because this now may be legal under the ruling from the Supreme Court, does not mean it's a good idea," she said. "We would hope that there would be more effective ways of dealing with drug problems that may exist."

Lyons believes that educators ought to spend their time educating.

Joyce Nalepka, president of Drug Free Kids: America's Challenge, applauded Peterson's efforts.

"I wholeheartedly support Congressman Peterson. We would be so lucky if everyone stood as tall as he has on this issue," she said.

Her organization first began pushing for student drug testing in 1986 when First Lady Nancy Reagan was honorary chairman of Drug Free Kids, Nalepka said. Mrs. Reagan passed a resolution in support of drug testing, "and it has virtually taken all this time to get the legislation passed," Nalepka added.

Her organization has been working on drug prevention since 1977, with the goal of ridding schools of drugs.

She pointed out that drug testing is working in the military, with drug use reduced to less than one percent. "And of all places we should have a drug-free environment is in our schools," Nalepka said, adding that her organization considers drug testing to be "prevention intervention."

"It is not for punishment. It's to help the kids get off drugs and give non-using kids an even stronger reason to say 'no,'" she concluded.

Peterson's bill will be introduced in the coming weeks, according his spokesman.

E-mail a news tip to Melanie Hunter.

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