ASSUMPTION College is set to test students for illegal drugs and alcohol, with several other prominent private schools about to adopt the controversial practice widely used in the US education system.
The proposed drug screening would only be conducted on students who exhibit unusual or erratic behaviour in class, and the school would require parental consent before a child was asked to provide a urine sample.
But some experts and civil liberty groups have warned the plan could breach privacy laws and undermine trust between teachers and students.
Assumption College principal Michael Kenny said the proposed trial next year would enable early detection of recreational drug use, which would be accompanied by an education and pastoral care program to support students.
''There's obviously going to be some parents who don't want us to do this. But we have to look at what the greater good is here. If we can help steer our kids down a certain path and make them aware of the dangers of drugs and alcohol, we could be saving lives,'' Mr Kenny said.
He said the pilot program would require the support of the college council before it was introduced next year. ''Any program involving the screening for illicit drugs will not be introduced until the approval of the college council and without appropriate consultation with all the relevant parents and students,'' Mr Kenny said.
The Kilmore-based Catholic school will be following the lead of Melbourne Grammar, which introduced testing more than a decade ago.
Former headmaster Paul Sheahan said up to eight students were tested during that period, with most returning positive tests. Those found to have used drugs, were then subjected to random testing over the next year, according to Mr Sheahan.
''I'm not a fan of mandatory testing, but at Melbourne Grammar it was always in response to circumstances where it was bleeding obvious that a student had a problem with drugs,'' he said.
Suretest Australia managing director Dr Peter Lewis said the Melbourne-based company was in negotiations with several other independent schools, which had asked not to be named until a decision was finalised.
He said the screening device could detect a range of illegal drugs within two minutes of a urine sample being given. He said the test was 99 per cent accurate.
''We're not out to get kids expelled or get them in trouble, this is about detecting a problem early and providing the support they need at a critical time, before it spirals out of control.
''But kids need to understand that they don't have an inalienable right to turn up to class stoned,'' he said.
Dr Lewis said the testing cups have already been trialled at the Frank Dando Sports Academy, a small private school in Ashwood that educates boys with behavioural problems.
Principal Frank Dando said the immediacy of the tests provided a strong deterrent to students. He said the screening program had already detected one child using drugs, who had been provided with counselling and support.
A 2008 federal Department of Health and Ageing report found that 10.8 per cent of 16-year-old students had used marijuana in the previous month, while 2.3 per cent had used amphetamines.
Professor Ann Roche, director of the National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction, said there was not enough evidence to suggest that testing would curb recreational drug use among students.
''There's a raft of very complex issues that need to be weighed up … There should be a whole raft of policies and prevention, before drug testing is considered,'' Professor Roche said.
Liberty Victoria president Jane Dixon, SC, also expressed concern that testing would undermine the student's right to privacy.
''The suggestion that teachers or school staff have some kind of specialised knowledge to detect when erratic behaviour is due to substance abuse is also dubious,'' Ms Dixon said.
Catholic Education executive director Stephen Elder said the organisation would work with schools to ensure any initiative was consistent with the organisation's policy.
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