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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, November 12, 2004

Mid-Pac parents object to drug test

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Staff Writer

Parents opposed to voluntary student drug testing at Mid-Pacific Institute are organizing in hopes of blocking what could become the first program of its kind in Hawai'i.

A meeting from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday in the school's Bakkan Auditorium will discuss possible flaws with the proposed drug testing and offer alternatives. The meeting, featuring speakers from the medical, legal and academic community, is being organized by EJ and Lerisa Heroldt, parents of two Mid-Pacific students.

Also scheduled to speak is entertainer Andy Bumatai, whose 15-year-old son is a Mid-Pacific 10th-grader.

Bumatai said he opposes the proposed drug testing because it's already available to parents and students in the private sector. Inviting a for-profit company onto campus to conduct the testing, he said, would open the door to any number of potential serious problems and divert the school from its mission.

"If I pay $13,000 a year to a school, I want them to concentrate on education, not drug testing," he said.

Officials at the 1,320-student college-preparatory school in Manoa could not be reached yesterday because of Veterans Day, but they've told parents they're hoping to start a voluntary program as early as January.

Under the proposal, middle and high school students would be tested only if they agreed and their parents agreed. Urine samples would be taken from randomly selected students, and the testing company would notify only parents of test results. There would be no ramifications at school for failing a drug test.

As proposed, it is strictly voluntary and intended to be discreet, with no consequences for the school to deal with.

School president Joe Rice said recently that one of the program's benefits is allowing students to use it as a tool against peer pressure. If asked to take drugs, a Mid-Pacific student can simply reply that they can't because of the testing, Rice said.

"But what does that teach our children?" said Bumatai. "Why do they have to make excuses? Why can't they just say, 'I have a life. I want to lead it, and drugs are for losers'? We need to teach our kids to make good decisions."

Bumatai said he sees all kinds of potential problems, from abuses by the testing contractor to the possibility of false readings and the stigma attached to a child who's been branded.

"Let's say a student tries marijuana and (just as fast) decides it was a mistake, he said. "The next day he's called to drug testing and for two days (before the results are known) he knows the hammer is about to drop, that his whole life is ruined. What if he decides to hurt himself, maybe even attempt suicide? Who's going to be responsible for that?"

The school's initiative follows a student drug testing proposal offered two years ago in a bill by Senate President Robert Bunda, D-22nd (North Shore, Wahiawa). The bill, supported by Gov. Linda Lingle, sought to establish a drug-testing pilot project at several public high schools, making the tests mandatory for students who participate in school athletics or other "physically strenuous" activities.

But the legislation died, in part because of testimony that drug testing would keep students away from extracurricular activities rather than from drugs.

Reach Timothy Hurley at thurley@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 244-4880.