New Bedford, Ma., after a two-year battle, has won approval for what is believed to be the state’s first program to test students randomly for drugs, the Boston Globe reports. Now officials must persuade parents to sign their children up for it. Administrators plan to begin testing in March. The program is voluntary, so city officials are planning incentives to bolster participation. More families are facing the issue as the federal government spends millions to push drug testing in schools.
This month, parents of the 7,000 New Bedford students in grades 6 through 12 will get letters asking if they wish to enroll their children in the program. If the parents agree, their children will be included in a lottery and could be tested for drugs at any time. Some parents say it’s a family matter, and they object to having children as young as sixth-graders taken out of class to have a cotton swab placed in their mouth. Others say the testing it may be the best way to catch a problem that often starts during adolescence. Students who test positive will not be reported to the school or the police. Instead, a private counselor will contact them and their parents to help address the issue. Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey backs the New Bedford program and said it could be a model for other communities.