Authorities testing surfaces at school for evidence of drug-taking

Surveys in recent years have suggested that the use of soft drugs in particular is relatively common in the Czech Republic. Various measures have been taken to combat the trend, including an unusual system of testing that has been introduced at a school in the South Bohemia region. It is not the pupils themselves that are being tested, but the surfaces, such as desks, with which they come into contact.

Under a system sponsored by the South Bohemian regional authority, hospital workers and police have been carrying out anti-drug testing at the Vyssi odborna a stredni skola technical school in Ceske Budejovice. Its director is Karel Strnad.

"They use round stickers, around eight centimetres in diameter. They basically wipe them along surfaces such as desks, door-handles, the toilets, collecting samples. One time they even did it in the staffroom. They then spray some chemical on the stickers and if they change colour then it means drugs have been detected. There are stickers for every drug - the chemicals react differently to different drugs."

Tests were carried out at Mr Strnad's school (where students range in age from 15 to 24) nine times over a three-month period earlier this year. What were the results? And given contemporary concerns about the right to privacy, is such testing legal?

"The tests have been negative since they began carrying them out in April. And it is legal, because the person who decides whether to carry this out is myself, as the school director. It doesn't affect the students; it's anonymous, because who sits at what desk isn't recorded. If we did find traces of drugs, we wouldn't know who to blame. So there is no doubt that it's legal; what's more, there haven't been any protests against this practice."

The testing is due to continue when the technical school reopens its doors after the summer. Its director says he would like to be able to prove to the wider community in Ceske Budejovice that his school is drug free.

"If drugs were found people would say, it's a great school, but there are drugs there. That would be a great disappointment to me, but of course we wouldn't be the only example - today you find drugs at elementary schools...The tests end in October, and if we remain clean then the doctor who developed the system will issue us with a certificate saying our school is drug free. But all it would take is one individual and our school wouldn't be drug free, unfortunately."

By the way, Dr Petr Petr, who devised the school drug testing system, told Hospodarske noviny he had been inspired by similar testing in the United States; companies which receive public funding have to prove their workplaces are free of narcotics, he said.