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Mo. School Considers Mandatory Drug Tests


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Mo. School Considers Mandatory Drug Tests

By BETSY TAYLOR, Associated Press Writer


br-14041.jpgTommy Gaher, 17, sits on the gym floor next ...

TOWN AND COUNTRY, Mo. - Behind the turreted brick walls of Christian Brothers College High School is a clean-cut student body of about 1,000 boys in collared shirts and dress pants.

Tuition for freshmen at the private school in suburban St. Louis will be $9,500 next year, including the cost of a new laptop computer. There is also the chance all parents will be charged another $60 to help pay for mandatory drug tests for students, a rare program hailed by the White House but disparaged by civil libertarians.

"I know a lot of people are worried about privacy concerns, but they're telling us it'll be kept confidential," said junior Tommy Daher, 17, of Manchester. "I think it's great that we'll be leading the way in this."

The school has not decided whether to implement the program. Officials have asked parents to respond to a survey on the idea and have not set a timetable for a decision.

Like Christian Brothers, schools around the nation have been trying to determine what's helpful, and what's over the line when it comes to testing children for drugs.

There's a move in many public schools to test athletes or students involved in extracurricular activities. Schools testing for steroids are on the rise. There are voluntary programs for middle schoolers who have agreed to stay drug free.

Private schools have more leeway to set their own policies, though the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that schools can conduct random drug testing on middle and high school students who participate in competitive extracurricular activities. President Bush voiced support of student drug testing in his 2004 State of the Union address, helping to fuel interest, said the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

"I think it's a clear tool not to play hide-and-seek with this problem," said the White House office's director, John Walters.

He has heard of roughly one school district or private school a week starting some form of random drug testing since last spring. He did not know of any public schools attempting mandatory testing of all its students, as some private schools are doing.

At Christian Brothers College High, students and officials of the school run by a Roman Catholic order say they have a small drug problem no worse than other schools and are looking for an effective deterrent. Randomly selected students who test positive would be offered help and asked to leave school if they fail a second round of testing.

If the program moves forward, about 15 students a day would be randomly selected for testing at the start of an academic year until the entire student body has been checked. Random tests would continue during the year.

A section of hair about an inch and a half long would be cut from a student's head and sent to an outside lab to check for marijuana, cocaine, PCP, Ecstasy, methamphetamines and opiates. If a student tests positive, a school official would meet with the student and his parents to discuss treatment options. Findings would not be placed on a student's permanent record.

The student would be tested again after 100 days. If the student tests positive again, he would be asked to leave the school.

Elsewhere in the country, school districts are making different choices. The Grapevine-Colleyville public school district in Texas, with about 4,500 students at its two high schools, has started random testing for students in competitive extracurricular activities.

Graham Boyd, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Drug Law Reform Project in Santa Cruz, Calif., said he worries most about the privacy of students and the fairness of certain types of tests.

"I don't think drug testing is helpful in any schools, even in private schools where there are not the same legal obstacles," he said.

Other schools founded by the Christian Brothers have similar drug testing programs and like what they've seen.

St. Patrick High School in Chicago said 11 students tested positive once for drugs last year, but just one student tested positive twice.

The hope is that students would have an easy reason to say no to drugs, because they know a positive test will have consequences, said Brother David Poos, principal of Christian Brothers.

"The purpose of this is not to catch kids. It's not to be punitive. It's to help kids," he said.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press

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