Newspaper clipping – The Cape Argus – 19 June 2008

Schools set for random drug-testing

By Candes Keating

Schools are a step closer to implementing controversial random drug testing.

It is expected that in two weeks the national Education Department will announce the approved drug-testing kits that schools will be allowed to use. The kits could include a test that can pick up drug traces on pupils’ hands, their cellphones and even inside their pockets.

With the implementation of the Education Laws Amendment Act at the start of the year, random drug-testing was approved at all public schools. Recently Education Minister Naledi Pandor outlined six testing kits in the Government Gazette, which had been put out for public comment. Submissions closed at the end of last month. Pandor’s spokesperson, Lunga Ngqengele, said department officials were sifting through public submissions.
            “They will make recommendations to the minister,” he said.

The kits outlined in the Government Gazette include five urine-based tests. These include the Multi-Drug test, one of the world’s most widely used urine tests that produces results in five minutes. This highly sensitive test can detect 15 types of drugs. Also listed is the swipe test, for which no urine sample is required from a pupil. Instead, drugs are identified by using a testing sponge to wipe over surfaces, with results produced in 10 minutes.

Schools will be allowed to make use of only one of the approved devices. Scores of teachers, who will be required to conduct the tests, have raised concerns about implementation. Many said they were unsure of how to conduct the drug tests, others raised legal concerns, while some said the cost of kits was prohibitive.

However, the Gazette outlines signs and symptoms which teachers must look for, which could indicate possible drug use, as well as a step-by-step guide to drug-testing. It also acknowledges that random drug-testing infringes on pupils’ human dignity and privacy rights. But it says “no right is absolute” and that, according to the South African Schools Act, pupils have a right to be educated in a drug-free environment.