Reading, Writing, and Urinalysis 

A school board member's plan to voluntarily drug-test Dublin High kids in exchange for a "positive scarlet letter" has the district a-twitter.

Kyle Mullane is a cool kid. He's a senior at Dublin High School, he starts on the varsity basketball team, and his clothes -- baggy jeans (of course), white kicks, and an oversized shirt -- are fashionable enough to make him fit in but not stand out. He's one of those All-American beanpole-type kids with a big Adam's apple, a buzz cut, and a gosh-shucks smile. Not the type anyone would accuse of using drugs.

But since Mullane plays a sport, he's just the sort of kid Dublin Unified would like to see tested for dope. School board members are considering two student drug-testing policies, and may vote next month to start a program next semester. In plan A, which mimics policies already adopted by a number of school districts nationwide, only student athletes would be subjected to random urine samples.

Plan B, however, the more sweeping proposal -- and the one that's generated the most snickering on campus -- would ask all 1,200 Dublin High students to volunteer for drug testing. Students who pass would get a special patch, a five-pointed star, indicating they're drug-free. They could pin the star, which one administrator refers to as a "positive scarlet letter," to their lettermen jackets or trench coats. The marked students would be recognized at lunchtime rallies, and local businesses could join the program -- tentatively called the Star Program -- by offering discounts to the drug-free on goodies like cheeseburgers, CDs, and clothing.

Since the word began to spread a few weeks ago, Mullane says he and his teammates are unanimous in opinion: Random drug tests would blow hard, and the Star Program sounds lame. "Any drug testing would affect too many people," says the teenager, shaking his head. "So many people would quit our team. They'd rather quit than have to take a drug test, and then we wouldn't have a competitive team anymore. Other schools that don't drug-test would have an unfair advantage."

As for the five-pointed fashion statement, Mullane says he and his friends would leave it in the box it came in. "I don't think it's an accomplishment that I don't do drugs," he says. "At least, it's one that I don't need to display."

For years, school board member Kevin Hart has been telling his constituents he'd like to drug-test their kids. A 22-year veteran of the Alameda County Sheriff's Office by day, and board member for the past six years by night, the lieutenant's test-the-kids mission was initially passed off with skeptical glances and hesitant questions about invasions of privacy. But in June, the US Supreme Court ruled that it's okay to drug-test students involved in any school-sponsored extracurricular activity. Suddenly Hart's once-mocked idea became the hottest gossip around town.

"Now, I'm able to look at people and say, 'We've got a clear-cut decision here that allows us to test students,'" Hart says. " So I say, let's be proactive and progressive for the safety of our students. Let's take this step."

If Hart has things his way, the drug test would search for just about everything: Ecstasy, marijuana, steroids, alcohol -- you name it, he says. He believes students who use drugs of any stripe are endangering the students and faculty around them. "Kids shouldn't even be exposed to drugs and alcohol," he says. "If I was to ask any of our students if they've seen drugs or had access to drugs at school, they'd say, 'Yeah, I've seen it.' And you know what? I don't want to hear that about Dublin schools. And I personally believe that 99 percent of the community supports a drug- and alcohol-free school."

Two years ago, Hart found support for his idea from board president Denis King and board member Eric Swalwell. After King and Swalwell returned from a California educator's conference pumped up with enthusiasm and ideas, they directed the administration's staff to gather research on drug testing, and turned to Jim Freeland, dean of students at Dublin High.

Freeland is a former athlete himself, from Brigham Young University, and he wears one of those large gold rings from his college days. In his report, he estimated it would cost the district between $19,000 and $25,000 to start up a random drug-testing program for athletes, with unknown annual costs to keep it rolling. When he went hunting for an idea on how to test the entire student body, he found a school district in South Carolina that used the Star Program. He outlined a similar plan for Dublin High, and tossed the idea into his packet. But when the board members asked Freeland for his professional opinion, he was stumped.

"As a young administrator, it's still an open question for me," he says. "When I was in college, I understood why I was getting drug tested. Playing sports was certainly a privilege, and it was like a job. [Testing] was meant to level the playing field. But here, at the high-school level, I don't know if drug testing helps us with the goal we're trying to accomplish here. I just don't know."

Alexandra Cox, a research assistant in the Oakland office of the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group that opposes drug testing, says high-school drug tests jeopardize a student's right to privacy. At such an awkward age, rumors of a failed test could bring on the cruel burden of stigma to a student, which, she adds, seems to be the point of the Star Program. "High school is a gossip-friendly environment," says Cox. "The Star Program rewards those who test clean, and ostracizes those who don't. And if [the administrators] think the kids won't find out, and won't be talking about who's clean and who's not, then they're fooling themselves."

Cox's organization, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, has long protested drug testing in high schools. It is her job to help parents across the country organize challenges against local school boards. But in Dublin, with a possible decision just a month away, Cox says her office hasn't heard a peep. "We're still learning what this is all about," she says.

Board president King says he'll host two public meetings before any decisions are made, but it's clear which way the vote is headed: On the five-person school board, three members have already shown support.

King agrees with Cox that the Star Program relies on peer pressure, but in this case he calls it "reverse peer pressure."

"For instance," he says, "a parent might ask his child, 'Why didn't you volunteer to take the test?' And that could start a whole family dialogue around the dinner table. It's a question: Why haven't you been participating like you've done in the past? It could bring out some results."

Back on campus, the students sound a little less Pollyanna-ish about the kind of family moments the drug tests might induce. Athletes such as Mullane seem resigned that Plan A, at least, will probably go into effect, and that many of his teammates will drop out of sports rather than risk getting busted or having their privacy invaded.

Non-athletes like Tyler Holloway, a spiky-haired freshman, predict an equally bummer fallout for the Star Program. "It all sounds pretty pointless," he says. "If they're going to drug-test, then they should test everyone and make it a mandatory, random thing. I mean, why should we pay all this money for a voluntary drug test? What if no one volunteered?"

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