Row over who gets drug test results

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 July, 2009, 12:00am

A row is brewing over the confidentiality of planned drug tests in schools, with schools, parents and social workers at odds over who should see the results.

The social workers say they should have a chance to counsel students found to be drug takers before parents and teachers are told, or students might be unwilling to talk about their problems.

The head of a school in Tai Po, the district where the voluntary scheme will be tried first in September, said all parties should be told. The district's parent teacher association agreed.

But a legislator said only the students and parents should be told.

Social worker Moses Mui Wai-keung said he and colleagues had reservations about telling principals, teachers and parents about results. 'It is better for social workers to learn the results first so they can build up a relationship with students with drug abuse problems and win their trust more easily, as the students know social workers keep things secret,' Mr Mui, chief officer for family and community service with the Hong Kong Council of Social Service, said.

'Social workers will inform the school and parents when the concerned students become regretful and are willing to make a change. If the school and parents are informed in the first place, the students might not be willing to talk about their problems.'

Assembly of God Hebron Secondary School principal Kwok Chi-hung disagreed. 'Schools, parents and social workers should all be informed about the test results. The tests are carried out on the school campus and it should be the school management who refer cases to social workers to follow,' Mr Kwok, a member of the Hong Kong Association of Heads of Secondary Schools, said.

'Teachers are professional in handling youngsters too, and social workers are often loaded with many cases.'

The chairman of the Federation of Parent-Teachers Association, North District, Daniel Yuen Kwok-hing, said all parties involved should learn the results. 'Students with drug abuse problems might have to go to camps for special training or stay in rehabilitation centres for a few months instead of going to school. Schools and parents surely will know anyway, so there is no need to argue about this,' Mr Yuen said.

He also urged the government to consult parents about the tests, saying there had been no consultation so far.

Students in Tai Po interviewed by the Post said parents should be informed. 'Parents need to know the result so they can help their children,' Form Two pupil Emily Lau, 13, said. Form Three pupil Christine Li, 14, said parents should be told and schools should try to talk to the pupils before sending them to police.

Democrat legislator James To Kun-sun, who is also vice-chairman of the Legislative Council's security panel, said only the student and parents needed to be told the result.

'It is the parent who has to give approval and it is the student being tested. So only the student and parent need to learn the test result,' Mr To said. 'If parents want to inform the school, then that is their choice.

'Students being tested don't have to talk about their problems. They only have to provide urine samples for tests. There is no role for police.'

The Education Bureau said the purpose of drug testing was not to penalise students but to enable early intervention if they have a problem.

A spokesman for the narcotics division of the Security Bureau said test records must be handled with care to ensure reasonable confidentiality and that students receive the help they need.