testing for drugs
The private school is looking
at a policy that would put young
offenders in treatment
By Susan Essoyan
Mid-Pacific Institute is considering drug testing its students, citing the prevalence of crystal methamphetamine use in Hawaii and the importance of treating kids who take drugs.
"We've been looking into the possibility of having a random drug testing policy, the goal being to help students who need help," high school Principal Rich Schaffer told the Star-Bulletin. "If we identify somebody, we're going to get him into a treatment program. There is not going to be any disciplinary action."
Mid-Pacific's proposal parallels one advocated by Senate President Robert Bunda (D, Wahiawa-Pupukea) for public school students, which was deferred by legislators after questions were raised about whether it would violate privacy rights and be worth the cost. Legislators plan to form a task force to study the issue.
Mid-Pacific's administration is consulting with parents and studying how such programs worked at schools on the mainland, he said. A few parents have expressed concern about infringing on students' rights, he said, but overall response from parents has been "overwhelmingly supportive."
"We will make a decision for sure before the end of this school year," he added.
Mid-Pacific, which enrolls 1,100 students in sixth to 12th grade at its Manoa campus, is not the only private school in Hawaii to broach the subject. Catholic Schools Superintendent Carmen Himenes said officials have discussed and rejected the idea of drug testing in the past, but plan to revisit the issue soon at a meeting of secondary school principals.
"It's an issue that we will again look at very closely," she said. "We'd need lots of study before we would adopt any new policy."
Spokeswomen for Punahou and Iolani said their schools have not considered random drug testing.
In a message to Mid-Pacific families in February, Schaffer asked for parental input on "our planned implementation of a random drug testing program," noting the upswing in "ice" (crystal methamphetamine) use among Hawaii's youth and the potential that even minimal use can cause brain damage.
"While we don't believe there is a large use among our student body, we have recently become aware of a few cases," he wrote, "and have been able, with the cooperation and assistance of their families, to get these students into treatment programs. We are taking a very proactive approach to this situation."
Tom McKinley, president of Mid-Pac's Parent Teacher Organization, said he favors the idea, as long as it leads to treatment, not punishment. He believes the knowledge that they could be tested at any time should make students think twice before trying drugs.
"It gives the kids another reason to say, 'Do I really want to do this?'" he said. "I believe in privacy but safety is the first thing."
Several other parents contacted declined to comment or said they had not formed an opinion yet.
Prosecutor Peter Carlisle, who has a son at Mid-Pacific and a daughter at Punahou, wants Hawaii schools to try a program modeled on one at several New Orleans schools, which use hair samples to test for drug use. Results are kept confidential, and no punitive or criminal action results from a positive test, he said.
"We need to deal with this problem as early as possible," he said. "This is a classic preventive measure. It prevents them from getting in the criminal justice system. It prevents them from being peer-pressured into using drugs."
But Pam Lichty, president of the board of the Hawaii affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, said random testing of all students invades their privacy, creates an adversarial relationship and diverts funds better spent on prevention and treatment.
"It makes the students suspect," she said. "The ACLU's position is that if drug testing is to be done, it should be based on impaired performance. If a student is falling asleep in class, acting up or missing a lot of classes, then maybe drug testing is warranted."
As a private institution, Mid-Pacific may impose conditions such as drug testing on all students, but public schools face constitutional hurdles.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that public schools may legally test students who choose to participate in sports or other optional extracurricular activities. But it has not said whether drug testing of all students as a condition of attending school is legal.
Government agents are prohibited from conducting unreasonable searches and seizures. But the issue is not clear cut in the case of public schools, which are government agents but also act as guardians of students. The state Constitution also affords residents more privacy protection than the U.S. Constitution.