- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Officials in eight of nine school districts in Northern Virginia say they will not administer drug tests to students participating in extracurricular events, though new state guidelines clarify the procedure.

“We don’t do drug tests, and we don’t intend to,” Wayde Bryant, spokesman for Loudoun County Public Schools, said yesterday.

The Virginia General Assembly voted in favor of drug testing two years ago, and in June the state’s education department issued guidelines on the nonmandatory testing.

The Fairfax County public school system already has a testing program and will not use the guidelines, officials said.

“We already have an excellent drug-testing policy,” said Clarence Jones, a county schools spokesman.

Alexandria was the only system that did not respond to calls about the testing.

Officials from Arlington County, Falls Church, Fairfax City, Manassas, Manassas Park, Loudoun County and Prince William County public schools said they will not test students, who will return to school within the next few weeks.

“It’s not an issue with us,” said Thomas DeBolt, superintendent for Manassas Park public schools. “It really would have an adverse reaction for us. You would alter the climate of schools. You are changing the situation from one of trust to distrust.”

He said school districts are also concerned about lawsuits.

“The advice I have been receiving is that it is legally very risky,” Mr. DeBolt said. “And if challenged, you would have an extensive court case and likely lose.”

The random drug testing of students gained national attention in 1995 then in 2001 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the practice in Oregon and Oklahoma public schools, respectively, was constitutional.

Only Lynchburg and Salem school districts in Virginia are known to have adopted drug-testing programs. Both limit random tests to students participating in sports. And the testing must be confidential and cannot be used for law enforcement.

Drug testing in schools has gradually increased in the United States, especially in California, as more students, particularly athletes, have shown signs of taking drugs.

Maryland does not test students.

“There appears to be no movement to test,” said Bill Reinhard, a state Department of Education spokesman.

The National Institute of Citizen Anti-Drug Policy and the group Drug Free Kids: America’s Challenge have endorsed Virginia’s drug-testing law and guidelines.

“Fifty-two thousand U.S. [children] die from drug abuse each year,” said Joyce Nalepka, president of Drug Free Kids.

However, such organizations as the American Civil Liberties Union claim testing violates a student’s privacy and constitutional rights, said DeForest Rathbone, chairman of the National Institute of Citizen Anti-Drug Policy.

He also said such organizations can hire “high-level lawyers” and create expensive legal challenges that school districts cannot afford.

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