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Plan for Drug Tests Dropped

April 10, 2002|ERIC BAILEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Weighing fears of a drug epidemic against civil liberties, school district trustees in Modoc County abandoned the idea Tuesday of requiring annual drug tests of all high school students.

Instead, the Modoc Joint Unified School District board will renew efforts to train teachers to spot teens on narcotics and bolster the high school's anti-drug education program.

The board also signaled during its 4-0 vote that it has no intention of revisiting the issue, even after the U.S. Supreme Court rules later this year on an Oklahoma case that could allow tougher tests on the nation's high school campuses.

"They were unanimous in not wanting to give the policy further consideration," said Kevin Jolly, the district superintendent. "They want to support the kids instead with good activities and encourage them to be drug-free."

The testing plan had squarely divided folks in Alturas, the seat of this rural county in California's northeast corner and home to Modoc High's 300 students.

During an initial hearing on the idea several weeks ago, supporters of blanket drug testing turned out in force, voicing concerns that the high school was plagued by abuse. But at a second hearing, opponents decried the proposal as an over-the-top tactic. Students, meanwhile, called it an overreaction that proved parents lacked trust.

Tuesday night's hearing, attended by 50 people, also was dominated by concerns about the costs, accuracy and attitude of distrust that testing would project to students.

Missing from the hearing was Seab McDonald, the no-nonsense board chairman who had championed broad drug tests of all high school pupils. McDonald was out of town attending to funeral arrangements for his father, who died of a heart attack over the weekend.

McDonald first raised the idea at the behest of Angel Williams, whose son--a starting point guard for the Modoc Braves basketball squad--confessed he had been smoking marijuana for two years. The son also admitted that many of his peers used drugs, prompting his mother to phone McDonald.

Recent events buttressed their concern. During the past winter, several Modoc High wrestling and basketball team members were caught using or selling drugs. Last month, sheriff's deputies arrested three students caught smoking pot outside of town.

Experts, however, say drug use in the sparsely populated community (Modoc County has 9,500 residents scattered across an area larger than Los Angeles County) is typical of rural areas.

Drug testing has long been a controversial tactic in U.S. schools. In 1995, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld drug tests for student athletes in an Oregon case. Since 1998, 5% of schools have performed such tests, and 2% conduct them on all students in after-school activities.

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