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States Given Wide Latitude in Devising Anti-Drug Policies

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Washington--States will have broad latitude in determining whether local education officials are complying with a 1989 federal law that requires schools to adopt anti-drug programs and policies, under proposed regulations issued by the Education Department last week.

In its proposal, the department did not specify the content of curricula that schools must adopt.

The measure itself requires only that schools certify to state education officials that they will have adopted anti-drug programs and policies by Oct. 1.

Schools that fail to provide a certification will be barred from receiving any federal funds, including those distributed by agencies other than the Education Department. They could not reapply for federal aid for at least 18 months.

The passage of the law marked the first time that the federal government required schools to provide instruction in a given subject area in order to receive federal aid.

Comments on the proposed regulations, which were printed in the April 24 issue of the Federal Regis4ter, will be accepted until June 8. Dick W. Hays, the director of the department's drug-abuse-prevention oversight staff, said the agency plans to issue its final regulations in early August.

The anticipated release date could pose a problem for states and local education agencies that need extra time to develop policies. The proposal issued last week said that states and schools seeking an extension until April 1, 1991 would have to file their requests by no later than Aug. 1 this year.

The heart of the proposed regulation is phrased exactly as the law was written. Both require that schools have "age-appropriate, developmentally based drug and alcohol education and prevention programs (which address the legal, social, and health consequences of drug and alcohol use and which provide information about effective techniques for resisting peer pressure to use illicit drugs or alcohol) for all students in all grades ... from early-childhood level through grade 12."

Both the law as passed and the proposed regulation reflect an intense Congressional debate last fall.

On one side of the debate were a number of House members, who expressed concern that a Senate-passed version of the bill would have effectively allowed the department to define the terms "age-appropriate and developmentally based." That would have enabled the department to dictate curriculum, they warned.

As the result of those concerns, an amendment was added that made it clear that the department could not determine the content of curricula. But several Republican senators argued that by not defining those terms, the statute was essentially unenforceable, since the department would not be able to determine which curricula were acceptable. (See Education Week, Nov. 29, 1989.)

The proposed regulation would also require schools to ban students from possessing or using alcohol and drugs at school. Such policies must include sanctions "up to and including expulsion and referral for prosecution," the rule states. Schools also would have to prohibit drug use, possession, and distribution by school employees on school premises.

Under the proposed regulation,state education agencies are advised to certify to the Education Department that they have a drug-education program and a drug-use policy for both students and employees in place by Sept. 4. States would be required to provide the ed with the names of all schools that have not submitted their assurances by Oct. 1.

A number of educators, meanwhile, said last week that they were not sure whether the law was necessary. Many schools already have drug-education programs and policies in place, they said.

"It's not anything new," said Nell Hoffman, the drug-prevention program director for the Texas education department. Only about 3 percent of the state's schools do not already have K-12 drug-education programs in place, she noted.

Bruce Hunter, associate executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, questioned whether the department or the states could effectively monitor compliance with the law.

"There is [no curriculum] that you could pull off the shelf that could meet that description," he said. "Every once in a while Congress does something that is just plain goofy."

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