Private Schools Said Free From Anti-Drug Mandate
Washington--Exposing an apparent loophole in the drug-education bill adopted by the Congress last year, Education Department officials said last week that private schools are not required to have anti-drug policies and programs as a prerequisite to receiving federal funds.
The law requires all "local educational agencies" to certify to state officials that they have adopted anti-drug programs and policies by Oct. 1 of this year in order to continue receiving any federal funds, including those distributed by agencies other than the Education Department.
But the General Education Provisions Act, which is cited in the drug law, defines the l.e.a.'s exclusively as public school districts.
Congressional aides who were familiar with the bill seemed surprised to learn last week that private schools were not covered, and said that their omission from the certification process was probably an oversight.
"Based on the arguments made in favor of the program, there didn't seem to be any intention to distinguish between public and private schools," said a House aide.
Department officials said they became aware of the omission this spring, after they published proposed rules for enforcing the law.
After being questioned by a private-schools organization, the department's lawyers determined that such schools were not covered by the provision, ed officials said.
"We are being faithful to what we believe the legislation specifies," said Dick W. Hays, director of the department's drug-abuse-prevention oversight staff.
Larry Neal, a spokesman for Senator Phil Gramm, Republican of Texas and chief sponsor of that section of the law, said last week he did not know if the omission was intentional.
"I have never heard [the senator] address this specifically," he said.
Daniel Schecter, an aide who handles education issues in the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said: "I don't think there was toomuch consideration given to private schools at that time. I don't recall any discussions on the issue."
Although the law does not specify that private schools submit certification forms, it does require l.e.a.'s and state agencies to ensure that private-school students and teachers participate in the anti-drug program.
Kellen Canavan, director of legislative affairs for the National Association of Independent Schools, said it was unlikely the Congress would include sections "clearly dealing with private-school participation" but exempt them from certification.