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Thursday, January 21, 2021

Random drug testing in schools

Proposals for mandatory drug testing on secondary and tertiary students following Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) statements on drug affectation in schools have been put out by various government agencies since last week. A new proposal by PDEA yesterday was to include elementary students, Grade 4 or 10 years old and above.

A drug testing program has been initiated by the Department of Education (DepEd) since 2017 and has been pushed by administrations since Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

How does the current drug testing proposals and programs look so far?

PDEA’s proposal for mandatory and surprise drug testing for school officials, teachers

On June 21, PDEA Director General Aaron Aquino said they are seeking an issuance of a Dangerous Drugs Board resolution to enforce mandatory drug testing on public and private schools students and personnel. This move was sought after they arrested a 10-year old suspected drug user.

“Bakit Grade 4, bakit 10 years old? Based on our operation, yung bata na gumagamit ng illegal drugs is as early as 10 years old,” he said on Thursday.

[Why Grade 4, why 10 years old? Based on our operation, a child that used illegal drugs is as early as 10 years old.]

Aquino said it is up to the DepEd if they would take up the recommendation.

The PDEA Chief also wanted the Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act amended to make school officials, teachers, and students undergo mandatory and surprise drug testing.

Commission on Human Rights Commissioner Gwen Pimentel commented on this, asking for the rights of the children to be observed and safeguards and guidelines in the implementation of the drug testing be provided. Pimentel said that the program must observe the right to privacy, the right to consent and to be informed of those who will take the drug tests, especially if they are children.

The PDEA yesterday distributed P180 million worth of equipment to its units to enhance their operational capabilities in the war against drugs. The equipment included 63 vehicles, 151 motorcycles, computers, body cameras and drones.

DepEd’s drug testing program

In a statement also on Thursday, the Department of Education cited cost and legal implications as well as the agency’s ongoing drug testing program.

The DepEd said, “the proposal of the [PDEA] to test all students age 10 and older may require the amendment of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, which authorizes drug testing for secondary and tertiary level students only.”

The DepEd also warned the PDEA on the cost implementation of its plan.

“The population of students from Grade 4 (the grade level of 10-year old students) to Grade 12 total at least 14 million. At PhP 200 per student for the testing fee alone, the budget will already amount to PhP 2.8 billion. There are considerable related costs for capacity-building and mobilization for the conduct of the drug testing,” said the DepEd.

DepEd cited that it has an ongoing drug testing program that started in the previous school year and end after the current school year, in 2019.

The agency released Department Order 40, Series of 2017, the guidelines for the conduct of drug testing in public and private secondary schools, on August 8, 2017. They also released Department Order 37, the guidelines for the conduct at the end of July 2017.

“The program covers all 1,300 officers and personnel at the central office, 3,800 in the regional offices, and 26,000 in schools division offices. It also covers a sample population of all teachers, numbering 10,000, and a sample population of all secondary students, numbering 21,000. The sample population of secondary students and teachers is based on a sampling design to yield 95% statistical confidence level of the result,” said the DepEd.

In announcing that the drug testing will continue this school year, DepEd Secretary Leonor Briones assured the public that the results “will not be a basis for kicking out the student or kicking out a faculty member.”

DepEd said that the that drug testing is a component of a much broader preventive drug education program and that the primary mandate of DepEd is still the integration of preventive drug education in curriculum and instruction.

Briones would also request a meeting with the PDEA chief to share the DepEd’s program and to compare their respective agency’s objectives with the drug testing program.

DepEd said its objective in the conduct of the drug testing is mainly to know the prevalence so it can provide interventions compliant to its mandate, and for health reasons, so proper treatment can be provided. The results will be a basis for treatment if treatment is necessary, Briones said.

The DepEd also said the program has the full support of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Manila Today tried to reach DepEd to find out the scope that they have covered in the drug testing, the percentage of results on affectation of schools with illegal drug use, how their objectives for the program have been met so far and other questions, but we are still awaiting the agency’s response.

Drug testing in Quezon City schools

Quezon City (QC) Vice Mayor Joy Belmonte said on June 15 said students in public high school and colleges in the city will undergo mandatory drug testing with or without their parents’ consent

Belmonte said the program has undergone consultation. In its conduct, there will an orientation and information dissemination campaign and parents would be notified and they would ‘sign a paper.’ Even if the parents would not approve, their children would still undergo the drug testing and the parents would be made to undergo counseling, as mandated by RA 9165.

A selection board composed of the school principal, student council president, head of faculty department, and head of Parents-Teachers Association will come up with a list of students who they believe must be tested. The  QC Anti-Drug Abuse Advisory Council will meet with the selection boards to come up with guidelines based on recommendations by school authorities to protect the confidentiality of students who undergo testing.

Urine samples would be used by a laboratory accredited by the Department of Health (DOH) for these tests.

Students with positive test results will have counseling with parents, guidance counselors, school administrators and a representative from the DOH to determine the level of drug dependency. They will undergo another test and repeat offenders or those determined to be drug dependent may be admitted to a drug rehabilitation facility.

QC Mayor Herbert Bautista also said the local government’s drug testing program is in accordance with the law.

The QC local government passed last year Ordinance No. SP-2615, Series of 2017, an ordinance requiring the conduct of testing for students of public, tertiary, vocational and technical schools within the territorial jurisdiction of Quezon City and the appropriation of funds for said program. The ordinance was authored by QC Councilor Diorella Maria G. Sotto and was signed into law by Bautista on Oct. 3, 2017.

The local government will fund the drug testing that covers only public schools. They have initially earmarked P 4 million for the student drug testing program. The city has 99 public elementary and 48 public high schools, 274 private elementary schools, 175 private high schools, 81 colleges and nine universities.

The PDEA has said that “100 percent drug affectation in Quezon City” in all school levels.

Random drug testing, legality and dissent

The Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Acts of 2002 or RA 9165 provides the basis for random drug testing in schools.

Article 3 Section 36 (c) of the law states, “Students of secondary and tertiary schools. – Students of secondary and tertiary schools shall, pursuant to the related rules and regulations as contained in the school’s student handbook and with notice to the parents, undergo a random drug testing: Provided, That all drug testing expenses whether in public or private schools under this Section will be borne by the government.”

The conditions for random drug testing under the law include:

  • The testing is conducted pursuant to related rules and regulations as contained in the school’s student handbook; and
  •  The testing is conducted with notice to the parents.

A decision of the Supreme Court on the case of the Social Justice Society v. Dangerous Drugs Board, G.R. 157870 on November 3, 2008 requiring mandatory, random and suspicionless drug testing of students was held as “constitutional.”

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) noted that in current rules on drug testing that while former Department of Justice Vitaliano Aguirre said random drug testing for students of secondary and tertiary school is authorized by RA 9165, “mandatory drug testing, on the other hand, is not expressly precluded in said law, which was silent on the matter. Accordingly, a secondary or tertiary school is not precluded from implementing a mandatory drug testing of its students in the exercise of its academic freedom.”

The group concluded on the drug testing guidelines of the DepEd:

“On its face, the DepEd Order Nos. 37 and 40 are in accord with prevailing jurisprudence and current laws. However, in light of the present societal context, law enforcement officers are urged to strictly abide by the guidelines set forth in the laws. Both schools and students must be apprised of the safeguards provided by law especially with regard to the confidentiality of the drug test results and the unavailability of such in any court proceeding. It is only with such strict implementation can drug testing be random and suspicionless.”

Kabataan Partylist Metro Manila, however, said no to the random drug testing in schools.

“Children and the youth are not the source of the drug problem, yet they are to be subjected to another palliative solution that would end up more caustic in their personal lives and safety. Assurances for the protection of the child’s rights and safety and their best interests in the mandatory drug testing of the government could hardly be believed after so many killed in the drug war,” said the group in its statement.

The group cited a data of a non-government organization for children that recorded 74 minors killed in Duterte’s war on drugs. Of the 74, 56 were boys and 18 were girls.

“The mandatory drug testing in school harked back to another terrorizing experience of even younger children (those 9-year old and above) in schools: the mandatory, free Dengvaxia immunization program that endangered the lives of at least 830,000 school children,” the group also said.

The group also cautioned on the program’s costs that could turn out to be a waste of money, citing examples in the US where less than 10 positive drug test results were obtained at the cost of tens of thousands of dollars, while the program is still not the the solution to the drug problem in the country. Poor implementation may also give rise to corruption, the group said.

The group also called on the government to eliminate the drug problems at its roots: poverty.

“The government must uphold the basic rights of the people and provide basic social services. In the case of children and the youth, so many are deprived of sufficient food, nutrition and education and their families wanting for shelter, livelihood and decent work and wages, that it is inimical for the government to look to solutions with far-reaching positive effects other than provide these basic needs.”

The post Random drug testing in schools appeared first on Manila Today.

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