Five Antwerp schools to introduce saliva drug tests for their pupils in a first for Belgium

Five secondary schools in Brasschaat (Antwerp province) are introducing saliva tests in the next school year to check whether pupils are using drugs. The decision is controversial, but the local authorities say that they just want to help youngsters. 

The Brasschaat alderwoman for Education Inez Ven (Flemish nationalist) explains the decision: "We know that there are drugs in our schools and we don't want to let this happen. Together with the schools, we want to send a signal that we are doing more than just being aware of the issue (...) Teachers can't solve this issue on their own. The schools have asked for our help." 

Ven adds that "it is not the aim to have every pupil undergo a saliva test each week. (...) People can never be forced to undergo a test. The pupil should agree and the parents should be informed." However, there is something as moral pressure. If a pupil refuses to undergo the test, the police can be called to the scene. 

Brasschaat Mayor Jan Jambon defends the decision

The Mayor of Brasschaat, former Interior Minister Jan Jambon (Flemish nationalist) explains that the tests are meant to help youngsters, to provide them a way to seek help. "The aim is to help them to battle the problem, rather than to act in a repressive way and to send them from school." Mr Jambon was clearly vexed by the criticism that the plans have sparked, but he says he doesn't care. 

The aim is to help youngsters, not to punish them

Expert: "The test involves risks"

The drugs in question are mainly cannabis. However, it's forbidden for minors to possess cannabis, even in small amounts and when it is for personal use. Paul Van Deun of the Flemish expertise centre for Alcohol and Drugs told the VRT that "officially the pupil will do test voluntarily but in reality that have no other choice than to agree, otherwise they will make themselves suspicious."

The saliva test can trace cannabis, speed, xtc, cocaine and heroin: "The test is very sensitive. It is even possible that people that have been inside a room where cannabis was being smoked, will test positive even though they didn't use it themselves." 

The expertise centre thinks it's not a good idea that schools are introducing the tests: "A pupul can test positive on Tuesday after using a drug in the weekend, outside school hours. Can a school intervene in this case?" 

Officially, pupils have the choice, but the reality is different