In push for drug-free schools, is administration going too far? It urges drug education, but also advises on tests and searches
Washington — Public school students may be learning a lot more than math and geography in school this year as the Reagan administration kicks off its campaign for drug-free schools. Use of trained dogs, urine tests, and unannounced searches of students and lockers are among the possible steps suggested to school administrators in a new 79-page booklet prepared by Education Secretary William Bennett.
The booklet is part of the antidrug campaign that was expected to be inaugurated by President and Mrs. Reagan in a televised speech last night. It was written as a blueprint for parents, community leaders, and school officials striving to regain control of their school districts from drug pushers, addicts and users, and drug-related delinquency.
Most of the booklet provides information about the drug problem and the characteristics of specific drugs. It also contains recommendations for parents and school officials on how to mount a broad-based antidrug campaign in a local school district.
But parts of the booklet read like a manual for countering guerrilla warfare in the blackboard jungle.
``In some circumstances, the most important tool for controlling drug use is an effective program of drug searches,'' the book advises. It adds, ``The effectiveness of . . . searches may be improved with the use of specially trained dogs.''
As if in anticipation of the outcome of some of the Education Department's advice, the booklet informs school officials: ``It is advisable that school districts obtain adequate insurance coverage for themselves and for all school personnel for liability arising from disciplinary actions.''
The booklet, ``Schools Without Drugs,'' represents the first public announcement of how the Reagan administration plans to pursue its goal of drug-free schools. A similar effort is being undertaken by the administration to achieve a drug-free workplace. That push depends heavily on urine tests for workers in both the public and private sectors.
``We have to get tough, and we have to do it now,'' Secretary Bennett said in a prepared statement released with the pamphlet. ``Because of drugs, our children are failing, suffering, and dying.''
But others question whether the booklet goes too far. ``American public schools are going to become mini police states,'' says Barry Lynn of the American Civil Liberties Union. ``Whatever else they are teaching in those schools, whenever you have widespread surveillance like this, you are also teaching that privacy is not a very important value in schools. And that is an unsavory lesson to be teaching our children.''
Arnold Fege of the National Congress of Parents and Teachers says a national ``hysteria'' about the drug problem has sparked a string of short-sighted proposals. ``I would doubt that that kind of harsh policy [drug tests and trained dogs] would be required in 99 percent of our high schools,'' says Mr. Fege, a former inner city school teacher and principal.
He warns, ``What we don't want to do is turn schools into fortresses, because if there is anything that disturbs the learning environment it is the fortress mentality.''
In the face of growing public outrage over drug use, school administrators across the country are coming under increasing pressure to crack down even harder, officials say.
``Principals and other school administrators are trying to please their constituency and their employers, and if a community wants a crackdown on drugs they are going to be perhaps more sympathetic to searches [and other antidrug techniques,]'' according to Ivan Gluckman, counsel of the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
Much of Secretary Bennett's booklet is noncontroversial. Parents are advised to set a good example for their children, to establish standards of behavior, and to supervise their children's activities, including being selective about television programs and movies that portray drug use as glamorous or exciting.
School administrators are advised to reach out to the broader community for support and to foster greater participation in school antidrug efforts by involving parents, community organizations, drug experts and counselors, and local law enforcement officials.
The Education Department also recommends establishing a drug prevention curriculum from kindergarten through grade 12 and conducting anonymous surveys of students to assess the extent of the drug-use problem.
The booklet emphasizes that school policies should clearly establish that drug use, possession, and sale will not be tolerated by school administrators.