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SATURN drug-testing program cancelled in Lincoln County Schools

Oct. 10, 2000

According to the recent News-Times article, Toledo parents sue to halt testing, my warning of last November 11,1999, (Lincoln Co Schools rush to drug test) that the SATURN drug testing program was being rammed through past the LCSD School Board too hastily, and that Lincoln County folks had not had adequate opportunity to respond, has proven prophetic. Despite it being bad form and in some sense taking pleasure in the misfortunes of others, I relish saying "I told you so!"

Along with Rob Matthewson and myself, the Oregon Civil Liberties Union warned the LCSD Board that the SATURN tests were not permitted under the privacy protections of Article 1, Sec 9, of the Oregon Constitution. This warning did not disturb the Board and apparently they and Supt. Stoops continue, even now that they have been sued and the program cancelled, to be unconcerned that they may have violated students' constitutional rights under Oregon law.

On a second point in the November meeting, I asked if the Board had taken seriously the advice that, since any suit the ACLU might sponsor would not seek damages, the district's legal expenses might not be covered by their legal insurance; under those circumstances LCSD defense costs might be "out-of-pocket." When this subject was raised, Dr. Linn Goldberg (SATURN project director from Oregon Health Sciences University) was quick to promise that "the legality of the SATURN program would be defended absolutely."

However, when faced with an actual lawsuit it seems pretty clear that Dr. Goldberg's promised legal defense was not forthcoming. Not surprisingly, LCSD officials could see the necessity to avoid uninsured legal costs - for which LCSD students would ultimately sacrifice educational services. At the same time, Dr. Goldberg was reluctant to go to trial with a weak case under Oregon law, the loss of which would jeapordize his whole SATURN program in a dozen other high schools across Oregon. Since the plaintiffs were not seeking damages for already incurred injuries, the easiest way out for SATURN and LCSD, Goldberg and Stoops, was to say the Toledo HS students had contaminated the LCSD evidence with their non-participation in the student drug survey, requiring the termination of the district's participation. But, had the lawsuit been pressed AFTER an athlete had been tested - or kicked off a team for refusing - and damages were claimed by the plaintiff for injuries already suffered - the district would have surely been left holding the bag.

It is just such evasion of responsibility to seriously question policy decisions which brings many plaintiffs to ask for large damage awards; only the loss of money really gets the attention of the CEO's and the officials of public agencies. As a local example I cite the case of Leslie Jensen, a Waldport Middle School student who, according to the News-Times, was wrongly suspended on May 2, 1999, by school officials on the basis of "field tests." (Student's drug suspension overturned) After being proven wrong by conclusive lab tests, LCSD administrators and Directors offered little in the way of apology and defended the field testing policy and the officials' enforcement actions. No policy review was ever contemplated; the validity of such flawed field tests was never questioned.

Likewise, shoddy science can be found in the SATURN concept as well. The comparison of laboratory urinanalysis results to the answers on student survey questionaires does not support a rigorous approach toward answering the study's basic question as to whether the threat of drug testing deters drug use. The SATURN study compares hard (lab) data with "soft" data (from the surveys) - and, given the desire of some adolescents to shock their teachers and other adults with exaggerated tales of dissipation, the relative validity and compatibility of the two sets of data would seem lacking. It appears waging the war on drugs takes precedence over good scientific practice as well as civil rights.