- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 11, 2005

A petition drive is making central Virginia a battleground for students trying to rid their schools of illegal drugs by advocating random drug testing.

“It’s not unique to Virginia to have kids talking about, supporting and being vocal about wanting a drug-testing program in their school,” said Scott Burns, deputy director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. “Kids want to go to a drug-free school.”

A group of students in the Williamsburg-James City County school district last month held a rain-soaked protest for drug testing. Officials in Clarke County said student advocates were the main reason the school system approved a random testing plan in 1999.

There is no system that tracks how many schools nationwide use random drug testing, officials said. However, Dr. Robert DuPont of the Institute for Behavior and Health in Rockville, estimates there are about 500 across the country.

“It’s a major addition in drug-abuse prevention,” he said.

The District does not randomly test students, and there are no known schools in Maryland that do, officials said.

The only Virginia school districts that have implemented random testing are Bath, Clarke and Dickinson counties, and the city of Lynchburg.

Drug-Free Kids: America’s Challenge — a national nonprofit, anti-drug advocacy group — has scheduled a June 21 summit on the topic and has invited school officials from Anne Arundel, Frederick, Howard and Prince George’s counties in Maryland; Fairfax County in Virginia; and the District and Baltimore.

“The big problem we’re having now is letting people know what student drug testing really is and how effective it is,” said DeForest Rathbone, chairman of the Falls Church-based National Institute of Citizen Anti-Drug Policy. “Parents are fed up with the drug traffickers having direct access to our kids in schools.”

The U.S. Supreme Court approved random drug testing for student athletes in 1995 and approved testing for students in extracurricular activities in 2002.

Testing advocates point to school districts such as Lynchburg’s, which has reported a 99.9 percent decline in the number of students testing positive for drug use since 1998.

But some school officials say testing infringes on student-privacy rights or that it costs too much, particularly in districts with few drug problems.

“It’s never been to the point of a problem with us where we would justify the expense and invasion of privacy,” said Wayde Byard, a Loudoun County public schools spokesman.

Paul Regnier, a Fairfax County public schools spokesman, said officials require a student returning from a drug suspension to submit clean test results, but he has not heard of a “big cry” for random testing.

Critics say results from random testing are inconclusive. A doctoral dissertation by Mark Y. Lineburg for Virginia Tech University found few students under Virginia’s random program tested positive for illegal substances.

Kent Willis, executive director for the American Civil Liberties Union in Virginia, said there are some indications the tests deter drug use among students in competitive extracurricular activities. But there is no indication the tests have an effect on drug use “by the vast majority of students,” he said.

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