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Votes

Drug Testing in Schools?

School officials issued 262 suspensions for drug violations in 2001-2002 and another 166 suspensions for drug violations in 2002-2003.

Some cases eventually proceed to discliplinary hearings at the School Board, and sometimes, in recommendations for expulsion.

"We're frustrated, we keep seeing the same things over and over," said School Board member Judith "Tessie" Wilson (Braddock). "I don't think we are making a strong effort if a person is suspected of using."

Wilson and former Board member Robert Frye requested that the Board "discusss that appropriate drug testing and drug assessment are requested by school administrators when a student is, or is suspected of drug involvement."

"We're losing opportunities," Wilson said, at the School Board worksession last Monday, Feb. 9 at the Burkholder Center in Fairfax.

Tammy Turner, principal at Chantilly High School, was one of the five panelists to speak before the Board. She has administered 15 drug tests this school year at the request of parents — "not disciplinary, merely informational," she said.

"I don't want to test all 2,600 students," she said, "but I do feel it is important to give. It gives some parents some inkling that there may be a problem."

ONE OPTION for Turner is to refer parents and students to Alcohol and Drug Youth Services; 580 county students and their families were referred to ADS in 2002-2003 and 72 percent of the referrals were recommended for treatment. Of these, 72 percent entered treatment, either through ADYS or a private program.

"Courts, military and organizations like drug tests because it's something that can be measured, but it's only a small piece of the puzzle," said Ed Huggins, clinical supervisor for Alcohol and Drug Services.

But he cautioned the Board, "a drug test doesn't tell you much."

Some tests only pick up drugs that have been in the system for the last day while some over-the-counter medications abused by youth, aren't even picked up by such tests.

"The urgency is that a child be evaluated in a comprehensive way," said Huggins.

Huggins gave an example of a strong student who was referred to him after the student's grades dropped dramatically, and his teachers reported that he often fell asleep in class and lost interest in things he normally did. But it turned out the student was not using drugs.

During an evaluation, Huggins said, the student disclosed that his parents were in the middle of an ugly divorce and he was staying up late to take care of his younger siblings. "He was depressed," said Huggins. ADYS helped the student access counseling services.