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Wrangle over drug test used to expel pupils

It has always been at least 10 days . . . for weed [dagga] to leave the body

Tensions are running high at an Eastern Cape primary school after three Grade 6 pupils were expelled last week for testing positive for smoking dagga, despite testing negative later the same day.
The three 13-year-old boys have been sitting at home since Wednesday last week after they – together with three other pupils – were made to urinate into plastic cups as part of a “random” drug test at the school.
Jeffreys Bay's Kings College Primary School principal Soria Swart said the school was within its rights to conduct the tests on the grounds of suspicion and regardless of the outcome of a meeting yesterday with the education department, the school would stand by its decision to expel.
Swart said she suspected the pupils had been smoking since the Monday before, after hearing rumours from other pupils.
However, the drug test was prompted after physical education teacher Mazami Charlie reported his suspicions to her on Wednesday last week.One of the parents said they were contacted and when they arrived at the school, they were told to sign the expulsion letter and “immediately remove your child”.
The father said as a result, all the parents took their boys to be tested at Ampath Pathologists the same day.
All of the test results – which The Herald has seen – came back negative.
Sanca Eastern Cape director Roger Weimann said, in his experience, it took at least 10 days before dagga exited the bloodstream, taking into account the strain of dagga, the amount and the way it was ingested.
The drug test used at the school – which The Herald has also seen – was purchased at Dischem and tests for tik, cocaine, ecstasy, heroin and dagga.
The Department of Basic Education’s Guide to Drug Testing in South African Schools, the Schools Act and the Education Laws Amendment Bill of 2007 all say principals are able to administer the test to a pupil “who is reasonably suspected of using illegal drugs”.
In addition, they all make reference to specific steps which need to be completed, including consulting the parents, explaining the process to pupils and removing the test from sealed packaging, which the parents claim was not followed in this case.
The guideline and Act also appear to contradict each other, with the Act stating that parents should be notified within 24 hours after the results are visible, while the guideline says parents should be notified as soon as possible after suspicion has been established.
Speaking from one of the pupil’s homes in the Toyko Sexwale informal settlement, the three pupils said they had been taken from class to the principal’s office, where they were given a cup to urinate in.
“There were cups with our names on. They didn’t tell us what was going on – they said we must go to the toilet and pee in the cup then bring it back,” one of the pupils said.
“Then we went back to class and later that afternoon our parents were called in.
“We went back to the principal and she told us we are expelled for using dagga.“That was the first time we heard about it.”
Yesterday, a group of about 30 parents gathered in the school quad, wanting to speak to Swart regarding issues dating back to her arrival in 2015.The father, together with the other two pupils’ parents, also raised issues with the random test, saying “how is six out of 300 pupils a random drug test?”
The father said that according to the expulsion letter, the pupils would be allowed to continue with the test series and June exams.
But one of the other parents said: “These children are sitting at home without any books or stationery, as the school provides all of it, and their homework is not being handed to them, yet they are expected to write tests and exams.”
Swart said the intention of the expulsion was not to hinder the pupils’ progress, but rather for it to be a wake-up call. For this reason, they were being allowed to finish the term.
She said the school was the educational wing of the Victory 4 All NGO, and was heavily dependent on foreign donations. As a result, she could only afford to buy six tests.
Asked about the second tests, Swart said: “By the time the second test was done, the THC [tetrahydrocannabinol] had worn off because these boys probably didn’t smoke regularly enough to have it stay in their system for long.
“These aren’t stupid boys, they just made a stupid choice.”
Weimann said: “In my 10 years’ of experience, it has always been at least 10 days and up to six weeks for weed [dagga] to leave the body.
“And in terms of testing, preference should always be given to pathology labs because of the environment the tests are conducted in.
“Contrary to popular belief, weed actually takes the longest to leave the system out of the drugs available, because the THC attaches to the fat cells and, even in this case, it would take a few days for it to leave.”
Swart said: “It is the law, not our school – you can’t use dagga. We can’t bend the rules for these pupils.”
Education spokesman Malibongwe Mtima confirmed officials from the district office had met the residents and school leadership yesterday.
“A decision regarding the way forward will be taken in due course.”
Education expert Professor Susan van Rensburg said regardless of being an independent school, Kings College also needed to adhere to the department’s guidelines and rules.
“The manner in which the test was conducted was wrong, as the parents should have given consent and been present for the testing,” she said.Prescribed procedures must be followed
The Department of Basic Education’s Guide to Drug Testing in South African Schools makes provision for 12 steps which need to be completed in respect of conducting a drug test. They include:

Once reasonable suspicion has been established for use or possession of drugs, the parents or guardians should be notified as soon as possible;
The test must be conducted by a person of the same gender as the pupil, in the presence of an adult witness of the same gender as the pupil, and out of sight of any other person;
The testing kit must be opened in the presence of both the pupil who is about to be tested and the witness;
The principal or delegate must remove the drug-testing device from sealed packaging in the presence of the pupil and the witness;
The principal or delegate must, in the presence of both the pupil and witness, read the information contained in the package insert of the device before the test is conducted;
The test must be conducted as prescribed in the package insert;
The pupil must first be asked if he or she has taken any medication;
The person conducting the test must be wearing latex gloves;
The pupil will be required to provide a sample of urine (some tests require hair or saliva);
The principal or delegate will then test the urine using the testing device according to the appropriate method;
The package insert of each device indicates how the result of that test is to be interpreted;
If reports are required by the district or province, they should be furnished with the pupil’s written permission (requested in the presence of their parent/guardian if the pupil is a minor).ALSO READ..

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