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Schools explore random drug testing

By MARGO HORNER, The Mirror

High school drug users beware.

Education officials in school districts throughout the state are exploring a random drug testing policy being promoted by the United States Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). The federal government is offering funding assistance to school districts that choose to implement the program.

In Des Moines last week, representatives from local school districts, including Federal Way, attended a regional summit hosted by the ONDCP to discuss strategies for implementing a drug-testing program.

Twenty-seven percent of twelfth-grade students in Washington state showed up to school drunk or high in the past year, said Bertha Madras, deputy director of demand reduction for ONDCP.

“Drug use can compromise student performance in schools,” Madras said. “How can they absorb these skills when they are in the fog of intoxication?”

Madras suggested that random drug testing for students who are involved in extra-curricular activities is the solution to drug use in high schools.

“Above all, it gives students a reason to resist pressure to use drugs,” she said.

Random drug testing has been going on in public schools for nearly 15 years, Madras said. Idaho was the first state to implement such a program.

There are currently three school districts in Washington state that test students for drugs. At least one of those policies is being legally challenged at the local level.

Although a handful of cases have been challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court, so far, all policies have been upheld, said Linda Priebe, an ONDCP attorney.

Priebe noted that random drug testing is allowed by federal law and the U.S. Constitution, but local laws may be more strict and not allow it.

A representative from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) attended the summit and passed out fliers at the door opposing random drug testing.

The ACLU is currently providing legal representation for two sets of parents who are challenging a random drug-testing policy in the Wahkiakum School District. The case is currently before the Washington State Supreme Court.

The Federal Way School District may explore random drug testing after the State Supreme Court decision, said Diana Seeley, Federal Way School District director for risk management.

“Right now the federal case law is less important to school districts in Washington than determining what the Washington Supreme Court will do with this challenge,” Seeley said. “They have an opportunity to provide broader protection for individual rights.”

Seeley said she is not aware of any recent increase or decrease in student drug use in Federal Way. District officials, along with the Federal Way Police Department, continue to battle drugs in schools, she said, citing last year’s undercover drug busts in three high schools as an example.

“Certainly the district is very alert, we certainly keep an eye on what is happening in our classrooms,” Seeley said. “We’re very much attuned to wanting to make sure the classroom stays a good learning environment, so we are watching those types of behaviors.”

Contact Margo Horner: mhorner@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

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