Hawaii Schools May Take On Student Drug Testing

Monday, March 26th 2007, 9:20 pm
By: News On 6

HONOLULU (AP) _ The nation's deputy drug czar, Dr. Bertha Madras, says random student drug testing in Hawaii public and private schools would give kids a stronger reason to just say no.

Madras is visiting Honolulu for a student drug testing summit to be held Tuesday in Waikiki, where a group of drug prevention experts will talk to teachers and parents about the idea of bringing drug tests to island schools.

``I have not had one kid say they don't like it,'' Madras said Monday in an interview. ``They say, 'I've got an excuse to say no at a party, and nobody thinks I'm a nerd now because I don't want to test positive.'''

Only one school in Hawaii, the private Mid-Pacific Institute, already has a random student drug testing program. Two more private schools and three public schools bring in drug-sniffing dogs.

The federal government isn't trying to force schools to drug test their students, but it wants to make them aware that these programs are legal and there may be funding available, said Madras, deputy director for demand reduction in the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

``We don't swoop into town and say, 'You'll have to do drug testing.' We simply say, 'Here's a tool, and if you think it fits into your environment, you should use it,''' said Bill Judge, an Illinois attorney specializing in workplace drug policies.

The decision to give students drug tests would be up to the state's communities and the Department of Education, said Lt. Gov. James ``Duke'' Aiona. He said it's possible a Hawaii public school could decide to start drug testing soon if it has the backing of parents.

Random student drug testing programs typically require in-school urine tests of students who play sports, participate in extracurricular activities, park on campus or volunteer.

Just over 400 public schools nationwide already have random student drug testing using federal assistance money, Madras said.

At least four public school teachers and one janitor in Hawaii have been arrested in recent months on drug charges.

Neither Aiona nor Madras addressed whether teachers or school employees should be subjected to random tests.

``We have a lot more interest in drug testing right now because of some recent incidents,'' Aiona said. ``I've seen ... a lot of tragedy that was needless, and drug testing is the best tool to prevent that.

Under current drug-testing programs, students who test positive often have to get counseling and are suspended from extracurricular activities for a short time. But police aren't notified, and students' records are kept confidential.

Chris Steffner, a New Jersey high school principal, said only one student tested positive in the first year of random testing there, and no students failed in the second year.

``This is not punitive. That's not the goal,'' said Steffner, principal of Colts Neck High School in Monmouth County, N.J., who is participating in the Hawaii summit. ``The goal is to bring parents into this conversation early on.''

Only 10% to 30% of eligible students in schools with random drug testing are actually given tests, Judge said. Drug tests can cost about $4,000 a year per school, and that money comes from either community fundraising or nearly $36 million in federal grants awarded since 2003.