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Lawmaker aims to test high school students for drugs

Friday, January 23, 2004

By Lara Jakes Jordan, The Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Following up on plans outlined in President Bush's annual address to the American people, a Pennsylvania lawmaker formally introduced a new program Wednesday encouraging public schools to test students for drug use.

The $23 million testing plan, targeted at grades 8-12, would not be mandatory, but parents who do not want their children to participate would have to opt out. It is sure to draw critics who argue the pilot program will invade student privacy.

Rep. John Peterson, R-Venango, said efforts to get youngsters off drugs far outweigh any concerns over their privacy.

"This is about helping kids," Peterson said, noting that recent studies indicate 54 percent of high school seniors in 2001 had tried an illicit drug.

"In my view, I'd like to see everybody tested," Peterson said.

Courts have previously upheld the right of schools to test students involved in extracurricular activities, including sports, for drug use. Peterson's plan would give individual schools wide discretion in random testing of all high school students by a doctor or other medical review officer.

Drug test results would only be shared with parents and school officials -- and would not be turned over to police or law enforcement authorities, Peterson said.

The president of the national Parent-Teacher Association said any drug testing programs would have to involve strong parent involvement to avoid opposition.

"We have very strong beliefs that parents need to be involved and that students' privacy needs to be protected,' said National PTA President Linda Hodge.

Bush briefly touched on the drug testing plan, which he called "a tool to save children's lives," during his annual State of the Union address Tuesday.

"The aim here is not to punish children, but to send them this message: We love you, and we don't want to lose you," the president said.

— Lara Jakes Jordan, The Associated Press
Pittsburg Post Gazette
Lawmaker aims to test high school students for drugs





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