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Education Liberty and Justice

Lawmakers Mulling Expanded School Drug Testing

Drug testing of students is already allowed under state law, but not randomly. Currently, a student may only be drug tested “if there are reasonable indications to the principal that the student may have used or be under the influence of drugs.”

Legislation is advancing through the Tennessee General Assembly that would permit school districts to implement a random drug testing policy for students who participate in any school-sponsored extracurricular activities.

The Senate and House Education committees each passed the legislation last week.

“There’s about five or six coaches that call me every year to get this passed because it’s a deterrent,” said the Senate sponsor of the bill, Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville.

Drug testing of students is already allowed under state law, but not randomly. Currently, a student may only be drug tested “if there are reasonable indications to the principal that the student may have used or be under the influence of drugs.”

If the legislation becomes law, local education agencies that choose to implement a random drug testing policy must notify parents of the policy and get their written consent to test their child, and parents must be notified if their child is chosen for a random drug test.

Results of the tests would remain private, and if a student tests positive for drugs or alcohol, the student would undergo a drug and alcohol assessment to determine whether or not the student needs counseling for their drug or alcohol use.

Lee Harrell, director of Government and Labor Relations for the Tennessee School Boards Association, told the Senate Education Committee a positive drug test would not hurt a student’s education.

“The intent of this bill is not to be punitive…as far as suspension from school,” he said. “The child will, under most policies, be excluded from that activity — if he or she tests positive — for a certain amount of time as determined by school policy.”

Under the proposals, student participation in any extracurricular activity, not just athletics, could result in students being required to submit to testing if their parents agree.

According to Fiscal Review, there were about 484,100 students in 2008-2009 in grades six-twelve, and the committee estimated about half participated in extracurricular activities.

The committee also estimated about five percent of those students would be randomly drug tested if the bill becomes law.

The Senate version of the bill is now ready for a floor vote; the House version could be taken up by that chamber’s Finance Committee next week.

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