High school students in and around Paris could soon be asked to submit to saliva drug screenings, after the Île-de-France regional council approved a measure to finance swab tests to detect cannabis and breathalyzer tests to monitor whether students are drinking in school.
Principals will be able to opt into the scheme, which is part of a wider campaign against teen drug abuse.
Addressing the regional council Thursday, Agnès Evren, the region's vice-president who is also in charge of education, said that cannabis was "a major cause of school dropout, lack of motivation, concentration issues, and academic failure."
"Ten percent of teens in the Île-de-France smoke more than one joint a day, a figure that has more than doubled in three years," she said. "We cannot remain powerless in the face of this scourge."
Under the new guidelines, principals will also be able to carry out breathalyzer tests in school. "Some principals tell me they've seen 10th grade students showing up wasted at 10 AM," Evren claimed.
The saliva tests to detect weed use will be administered by medical personnel in schools, and the results will be subject to doctor-patient confidentiality. Students over 18 will be given their test results. In the case of students who are still minors, the results will be forwarded to their parents.
School officials will not have access to individual results. Instead, the screening process will give principals the general statistics on cannabis use in their school.
Dr. Patricia Colson, the general-secretary of SNAMSPEN, a union of public school doctors, voiced concern over the measure when it was raised late last year.
"It destroys any relationship of trust or help," said Colson. "Saliva tests are being touted as a way to make families aware of [drug] use, which often goes unnoticed, but it seems to me to be counterproductive, since the parents will be in a logic of repression."
An amendment submitted by the centrist Democratic Movement Party will also allow school officials to analyze their schools' waste water to find out what pupils are getting high on.
Central to the region's new addiction prevention agenda is better training for educators so they can learn how to recognize the signs of substance abuse. Students will also take part in the campaign, with designated students to act as liaison between students and school staff, and trained to "pass on advice about prevention."
Each high school enrolled in the program will also designate an "addiction referrer" whose role will be to spot at risk students.
The fight against high school drug use will also continue outside of schools, with plans to go after dealers. CCTV cameras will be installed along popular school routes to deter dealers and to make the commute to school "more secure." Erven also said that high schools that wish to install video surveillance on their premises would be permitted to do so.
Ludovic Toro, a regional councilor for the centrist Union of Democrats and Independents Party, suggested that officials lead by example, noting that "according to statistics, 17 or the 209 elected officials in this assembly regularly smoke cannabis — eight of them on a daily basis."
Toro suggested that green party officials be screened first, but the joke failed to amuse his fellow councilmen from the EELV green party, who accused him of stigmatization.
"I didn't say you'd test positive," Toro said.
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