- The Washington Times - Monday, August 9, 2004

At least two Northern Virginia public schools say students will not be tested for drug use, after recently released guidelines for the random testing.

“We are not testing and we have no intentions at this time to change,” said Linda Erdos, a spokeswoman for Arlington County public schools.

A Prince William County public school official said yesterday that the district knows about the Virginia law and about the guidelines, but has no plans to submit students to testing.

“We don’t test our students, and we don’t plan to,” said Irene Cromer, a school district spokeswoman.

General Assembly lawmakers unanimously passed the testing legislation, which took effect July 1, 2003.

The assembly then authorized the state’s Department of Education to develop guidelines but stated that local districts would decide whether to test students.

The practice of testing students came into the national spotlight in 1995, in part, when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a decision by the Vernonia School District in Oregon to try to stop drug use among students by testing athletes.

Since then, other school districts have attempted to test students to curb or stop drug use.

In Northern Virginia, Falls Church City public school officials are reviewing the state law and guidelines. Alexandria, Fairfax County, Loudoun County, Manassas and Manassas Park public school districts did not respond to calls to learn whether they would test students.

Arlene Cundiff, of Virginia’s safe schools program, defended the districts, saying the guidelines were released just last month.

She also said districts are not required to tell the state whether they are adopting the testing.

“It’s at the discretion of the local school boards,” Miss Cundiff said.

The unwillingness of districts to test disappoints at least one anti-drug activist.

“We’re hoping [Northern Virginia schools] will adopt drug testing,” said Joyce Nalepka, president of Drug Free Kids: America’s Challenge.

Miss Nalepka also is former president of the National Federation of Parents for Drug Free Youth , an organization supported by former first lady Nancy Reagan.

“Fifty two thousand U.S. kids die from drug abuse each year,” Mrs. Nalepka said.

Only Lynchburg and Salem school districts in Virginia are known to have adopted drug-testing programs. Both limit the random tests to students participating in sports.

Still, Virginia has taken the lead in the testing, said Dr. Robert L. DuPont, president of the Institute for Behavior and Health Inc. and director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The guidelines “establish strong, progressive standards that enable student drug testing to enhance all of the other drug abuse prevention programs working to reduce today’s … high rate of teenage drug use,” he said.

California adopted a random drug testing policy that is now being fought by the Drug Policy Alliance.

Challenges to the testing reached the U.S. Supreme Court again in 2002.

The Virginia law and guidelines are based on and refer to the court’s 1995 and 2002 rulings. They emphasize that student drug testing cannot be used for law enforcement, is confidential and should include conferences with parents, guardians and drug-treatment authorities.

School districts countrywide have a tendency to “kind of ignore student drug testing,” said DeForest Rathbone, chairman of the National Institute of Citizen Anti-Drug Policy.

He said the reason is organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union often file lawsuits, claiming the drug testing violates the privacy and constitutional rights of students.

Mr. Rathbone said the organizations use “high-level lawyers” to intimidate school districts and initiate costly court fights.

“Most schools don’t have high-level lawyers,” he said.

A recent study by the Educational Resources Information Center found that 61 percent of America’s teens have tried drugs and that drug use among teenagers in the United States is the highest among industrialized nations.

Mrs. Nalepka and Dr. DuPont recently met with school principals from nine states that have implemented student drug testing.

The principals reported that the testing “turned around their students,” Mrs. Nalepka said.

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