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Two Catholic Schools in Chicago Weigh Drug Testing

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School officials in the Archdiocese of Chicago say they will not interfere with plans by two Roman Catholic elementary schools to begin testing all students, teachers, and administrators for illegal-drug use.

If the two schools decided to proceed with their plans, "that would not be in conflict with our policies," said Brother Donald Houde, director of administrative affairs for the archdiocese.

But the archdiocese has declined to act on a widely publicized call for requiring such tests on a random basis throughout its 156,000-student school system, the largest Catholic district in the nation.

The pastors of the parishes that operate the two schools involved, Holy Angels School and St. Sabina School, made a plea for a systemwide requirement at a press conference this month attended by Chicago's archbishop, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin.

The pastors have led an anti-drug crusade in recent months that focused attention on the sale of drug paraphernalia in the Chicago area. The Illinois legislature recently banned the sale of such items, and the priests have vowed to keep a close watch in their South Side neighborhoods for violators of the law.

The Rev. Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Catholic Church, said in an interview that he expected the school's board of directors to approve a drug-testing policy this week. A flier sent to parents of the school's 500 pupils yielded only two negative responses to the proposal and many positive ones, he said.

Father Pfleger said the school does not currently have a drug-abuse problem among its students or faculty. If tests show drug use by students, he said, they will be steered into counseling or else face dismissal from school.

"It is a drastic measure, and I realize that, but it is a drastic problem," he said. "This is not meant to catch, this is meant to prevent. I want it to be very clear to the students in our school how strongly we feel about it."

The other pastor, the Rev. George Clements of Holy Angels Church was unavailable for comment.

Testing Uncommon

Drug testing has not had much support as an anti-drug-abuse tactic among Catholic schools nationwide, according to a spokesman for the National Catholic Educational Association.

Brother Houde of the Chicago Archdiocese said that providing education about drugs was preferable to mandatory testing.

But Father Pfleger said testing for drugs beginning in elementary school sends a message about the gravity of the drug threat.

"This is a societal problem," he said. "There should be testing in the city council, in the banks downtown, across the board."

The head of the Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has said the group would probably not challenge the Catholic schools' testing policy because such plans by private institutions do not raise the constitutional questions posed by public-sector testing.

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