A proposal under which Antelope Valley high school students would be rewarded financially by local businesses for taking voluntary tests showing them to be drug free is being attacked by critics as ineffective and a threat to civil liberties.
The proposed "drug-free youth" program, which has been carried out in other states but never before in California, has gained support from Antelope Valley political, business and educational leaders since it was suggested two weeks ago by Billy Pricer, a minister and retired sheriff's deputy.
Under the plan, students with membership cards--granted after the youths passed random drug tests--would be given discounts on clothing, movies, food and other goods and services by participating merchants.
Pricer, who runs several anti-drug and gang programs that have received Lancaster and Palmdale city funds, has asked the Antelope Valley Union High School District to help sign up students and administer urine tests in the schools. School board members will discuss the issue next week as Pricer continues fund-raising efforts.
Critics said Thursday that they believe the involvement of the schools is inappropriate and that they plan to challenge the proposal at next week's school board meeting.
Opposition has come from black leaders--who say the program could lead to harassment of minority students who do not join--and members of the medical community. Some who run drug treatment programs say they regard the idea of a "drug-free club" complete with identification cards, discounts and other rewards as a waste of anti-drug resources.
"It's a superficial approach to a complex problem," said Sue Crimin, spokeswoman for the Road to Recovery, a chemical dependency program at Antelope Valley Hospital Medical Center. "I'd rather see the resources used for therapy programs."
The Rev. Samuel Hooker, president of the Antelope Valley chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, said he believes students who choose not to take part will be harassed and stigmatized. He also said the proposal is part of a backlash against black and Latino teen-agers in a fast-growing community alarmed by increasing gang and drug problems.
"It seems that this would infringe on people's rights," Hooker said. "This is what I consider Big Brother tactics. . . . The root of this stems from some sort of prejudice."
Pricer responded: "I see no basis for a statement like that. I believe it is so fallacious and ridiculous that I would not even lend any credibility to the comment. Drugs have no racial lines."
Pricer said he was inspired by the Drug Free Youth in Texas program in Smith County, Tex., where as many as 95% of students in some schools have joined drug-free clubs in the last three years. But some parents, students and civil liberties groups in those communities objected, saying students who chose not to join were unfairly stigmatized as drug users.
Some opponents in the Antelope Valley raise similar objections.
NAACP spokesman Mike Kirkland said, "We feel compelled on the behalf of the youth in our community to oppose even the concept that this is the most effective way to fight drug use."
Pricer called the criticism exasperating.
"It will be voluntary," he said of his proposed program. "Anybody who knows me and has followed my track record knows what my motivations are. Who's going to complain next, drug dealers saying their rights have been violated?"