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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, March 18, 2005

Mid-Pac to start drug tests

By Karen Blakeman
Advertiser Staff Writer

Mid-Pacific Institute has announced that it will implement a controversial drug testing program for students during the next academic year, making it the first school in the state to do so.

A student and his or her parents must agree the student should be subjected to the randomized tests, which will be conducted on school days by a private company, high school principal Richard Schaffer said yesterday.

Mid-Pacific will pay about $25 per test, but school officials have not yet named the company that will conduct them.

"We've agreed to put our names in the hat (for the random testing), too," Schaffer said. "Administrators are signing up, and it is being offered to the teachers."

Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, who has supported the drug testing program since it was first proposed earlier this academic year, said he was "excited and proud" for Mid-Pacific.

"This takes real leadership," he said. "They are setting an example, stepping out in front. I applaud them for it.

"I can only hope that other schools will take note and follow suit."

Aiona's children do not attend Mid-Pacific. He said he became interested in the drug-testing program out of his general concerns as a parent and political leader.

He, city prosecutor and Mid-Pacific parent Peter Carlisle and a vice principal from San Clemente (Calif.) High, the school that launched a similar program three years ago, spoke in favor of the program during an informational session for parents in September.

Another meeting in November was led by parents who oppose the program, including attorney Lerisa Heroldt and Andy Bumatai, a stand-up comic and businessman.

"There are far too many unanswered questions," Bumatai said. "And this is not accomplishing anything that can't be done in the privacy of your pediatrician's office."

Bumatai said he saw the program as institutionalizing a "Big Brother" lack of trust and privacy, and found Aiona's and Carlisle's talk of putting drug testing into schools across the state frightening.

Proponents of the program say that students will use the threat of drug tests as a reason for turning down offers of drugs.

Opponents say the teen years are the times to learn to say no without a crutch, and that drugs will be available to students long after the school drug testing program has ceased to be a part of their lives.

"There are far better, proven ways of doing this (curbing drug abuse)," Heroldt said. "This is not a proven program. This is not science-based. You know the 19th-century snake oil salesmen? That is kind of like what this is."

Schaffer said yesterday he agreed the program had not yet been subjected to scientific analysis, but said it would not be the school's only anti-drug program. Other new and more tested measures will be implemented alongside it, he said.

He said the school hopes to consult with Katherine Irwin, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa who was among experts who spoke against drug testing at the meeting in November. He said he hoped she would help the school to develop programs to supplement drug testing.

Carlisle, whose son attends Mid-Pacific, said yesterday that drug testing in the schools is essential. Drugs available to teens in recent years are more dangerous than those used by the previous generations, he said.

"Ice, Ecstacy, and that is just a start," Carlisle said. Because of genetic manipulation, even marijuana is becoming more dangerous, he said.

"It ain't your mama's marijuana anymore," he said.

Reach Karen Blakeman at 535-2430 or kblakeman@honoluluadvertiser.com.