Student Drug Testing Idea Cools--Politically Unwise

Times Staff Writer

School officials apparently are backing away from conducting a study of drug tests for students at Downey and Warren high schools.

At its meeting Monday, the Board of Education approved a study of the drug testing after board member Mark Morris suggested that the district investigate whether to conduct mandatory drug tests of all students.

But in an interview Thursday, Morris said that mandatory drug tests may be politically impractical and too expensive, since the costs for testing 4,300 students would have to be paid for by the Downey Unified School District. Morris said he now favors voluntary, confidential tests that would be paid for by parents.

"I deal with reality as well as anybody," Morris said of his revised position.

'Not All Druggies'

By week's end there was some confusion over exactly what school district officials had agreed to study.

While Morris said he asked district officials to look into testing all students for drugs, Supt. Manuel Gallegos said in an interview Thursday said that officials would only investigate testing of student athletes.

And Morris said that since he proposed drug tests, some students had complained to him that they "were not all druggies," and some parents told him, " 'Hey, all you're there for is to educate the children.' "

He added, however, that some students and parents had expressed support for the program.

Morris said he proposed the drug tests because parents at expulsion hearings frequently complained that they did not know their child had a drug problem.

'Keep Us Appraised'

School board president Walter S. Temple, who agreed to request the study, said in an interview Thursday that he is now against the idea and that he asked for the study only to "get it off the floor so we wouldn't debate" the issue.

The request for the study amounted to telling school district officials to "let us know what's going on, keep us appraised," Temple said. "I don't think it will get past first base in Downey. I don't think we need it."

He added that for school board members, the proposal may be politically untenable. "Anybody who puts it in is not going to be reelected," Temple said.

Drugs have been a growing concern in the Downey district where in April, for the first time in district history, narcotic-sniffing police dogs were brought into the two high schools to check lockers and cars used by 4,300 students.

The simultaneous surprise raids, conducted by Downey police and county sheriff's deputies, turned up only a small amount of marijuana residue in an unoccupied gym locker at Downey High. At Warren High, student lockers were clean, but in the parking lot, less than two ounces of marijuana, two six-packs of beer and a half-gallon of wine were found in student cars.

The raids led to the arrest and suspension of three Warren High students, who also face expulsion hearings. This year, 55 Downey and Warren high school students have been expelled for possession of drugs and alcohol, Gallegos said.

Report by Next Spring

The superintendent said the drug-test study would be done by Warren High Principal William Spruston, Downey High Principal Moses Chavez, and A. H. Shiney, who is assistant superintendent in charge of instruction. Gallegos said that a report would be submitted to the board next spring.

Shiney said in an interview that the study would consider "all aspects" of testing students for drugs.

Bob Speights, athletic director at Warren High, said he favors drug tests for athletes similar to a program now under consideration by officials in the Huntington Beach Union High School District.

Although only one Warren student was dropped from a sports team for using drugs this year, Speights said drugs at Warren High "could be a widespread problem for all I know."

"I'm not skilled in knowing whether a kid is on cocaine or not," Speights said. He added that he would also like to see the district revise its policy of dropping students from sports teams for drug and alcohol use.

"If we can get these kids to come to us with their problems, instead of booting these kids off the team, maybe we can help some of them," Speights said.

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