Drug Testing of Students Proposed by Senate President, Endorsed by Governor-Following the Federal Funding May Offer Some Explanation for This Out-of-left-field Proposal

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    “Laura Brown Image”

    The days of rulers rapped across students’ knuckles to enforce discipline in schools are gone.


    Now, according to federal and state officials, children have gone hog wild and are using tobacco, alcohol and drugs. Hawaii has a plan to bring them under control: Drug test every one of them.

    This is the proposal of Hawaii Senate President Robert Bunda, referred to by Gov. Linda Lingle in her Jan. 21, 2003, State of the State address as an idea that has merit. For those in the audience who thought the idea came out of left field, they need only follow the money that precedes the idea, back to the hand that feeds our state — the federal government.

    The U.S. Departments of Education, Justice and Health and Human Services recently announced more than $80 million in grants to 46 communities to prevent aggressive and violent behavior and drug and alcohol use among the nation’s youth through the Safe Schools/Healthy Students (SSHS) Program.

    This collaboration among the three federal agencies heaps education, mental health, social service, law enforcement and juvenile justice all onto the plate of local public schools.

    “We know from our work with the U.S. Secret Service and from other research that the best way to deal with youth who are troubled is through the development of a comprehensive strategy that involves schools, mental health providers and law enforcement,” U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige said. “It is absolutely critical to bring mental health professionals, school officials and law enforcement to the table to address the issue of safe schools. The SSHS grants do just that.”

    It is more likely that at the most these programs merely expand the profits of drug testing and research companies while violating students’ right to privacy, and stretching school and taxpayer resources to the breaking point.

    As Hawaii faces budget cuts and deficits, why spend scarce resources on drug testing?

    Hawaii is still reeling from the Felix Consent Decree spurred by federal research on methods to reduce the costs of mental health care nationally.

    In 1993, the Children’s Mental Health Services (CMHS) arm of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) division under the federal Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) embarked on the Children and Their Families research project in 22 states, including Hawaii.

    Unsuccessful attempts by local agencies and principal investigators to replace qualified mental health care with bogus “fix the family” treatments resulted in the federal court’s intervention to force Hawaii to shift the responsibility for child mental health services to public schools.

    The Legislature had no choice but to comply. Hawaii Session Laws, Act 91 (1999) required the Departments of Education and Health to do just that. This move resulted in the state agencies’ inability to collect Medicaid payments under the School Based Behavioral Health model, the exodus of qualified mental health personnel to other states, teacher and administrator burnout, exploding education budgets and, most frightening of all, damaged children and families.

    ”Lesson Goes Unlearned by Local Legislators”

    The promise by Lingle that drug testing would be “voluntary” and “preventative” not “punitive” is not reflected in bills making drug testing mandatory for enrollment in public school.

    HB1297 would require the identification of drug users, followed by counseling and treatment. This would miraculously improve student academic performance by reducing retention, suspension and expulsion rates, while deterring high school students from a life of crime.

    More importantly though, in conformance to requirements of the federal grant, Hawaii’s schools must perform a needs assessment and create an integrated database of information on the prevalence of drug use and the level of need for services.

    Twenty-five percent of all students would be tested. In other words, schools would perform a research marketing survey for predatory mainland consultants to come sell their services to solve Hawaii’s youth drug “crisis.” Would a consent decree — a la Felix — follow?

    Another bill to watch is SB1471, requiring the testing of all public school children using urinalysis. (This is in a public school system that is known for its lack of toilet paper.) Educators and staff would be “trained” on how to spot users of illicit drugs. (Putting that training in “best practices” for reading on hold.)

    SB 716 allows for the expulsion of children selling or using “intoxicating” liquor or drugs and allows for random drug testing of all public school children. A student may be tested even if he “reasonably appears” to have used illicit substances. If a student tests positive, the principal may refer the student to a treatment program, bypassing parental consent.

    SB 1471 prefers the hair testing method to be done on all students within the first 20 school days of each school year. Students who test positive will have another drug test 90 days later. The Department of Health will be in charge of student and family drug surveys. Students who are eligible for free and reduced lunch will get a discount on their drug testing.

    ”’Next Rotten Apple: Hawaii’s Education Beat will explore the costs of drug testing.”’

    ”’Laura Brown is the education reporter for HawaiiReporter.com and can be reached via email at”’ mailto:LauraBrown@hawaii.rr.com