What's the Matter With Drug Testing Students? | The Fix
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What's the Matter With Drug Testing Students?

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By Erica Sweeney

05/29/14

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Ways to Deter Student Drug Use 

There are many ways that schools can intervene in student drug use, and drug testing is not a particularly effective strategy, Romer said, because it has punitive consequences and prevents students from participating in extracurricular activities. Other issues with student drug testing include the validity of tests, false positives and privacy violations. He said students may also learn to shift drug use to less-detectable substances. 

Even though proponents say a positive result does not end up on a student’s permanent record, Romer said it can be damaging to a student’s reputation because punishment includes removal from the sports team or extracurricular activity.

Student drug testing is most common in high schools, but is also used in some middle schools across the country. Nationally, less than 20% of school districts utilize student drug testing. Romer said this number seems to be holding steady, likely because parents are becoming more aware of the issue and are beginning to speak out against the policy. Implementing the testing is completely at a school district’s discretion and is not mandated by any state. 

“Schools are not in the business of finding out what kids are doing that’s illegal,” Romer said. “They should be educating. It’s fundamentally a problem that parents should be putting their efforts into, not schools, which are spending taxpayers’ money on it.” 

In their fight against student drug testing, parents from Northern Valley Regional High School conducted and presented their own research on the subject. Northern Valley draws about 2,500 ninth- to 12th-grade students from seven towns in northeastern New Jersey. The school board is comprised of representatives from the seven towns. 

Hertzberg—whose daughter graduated from the school in 2008 and whose son who is on the school’s baseball and soccer teams and graduates this spring—said parents in the district are highly educated professionals with the “time, resources and inclination” to delve into issues affecting their children and community. 

Parents set up a petition at change.org and received about 1,000 signatures, attended many meetings and brought in experts to speak on their behalf. They requested the data that school board members claimed to have supporting the effectiveness of student drug testing, Hertzberg said. Initial requests were denied, but parents realized there were no data once Freedom of Information requests were filed, she said. 

After examining the school board’s own policy and procedures manual, the parents found that the school was not in compliance with its own substance abuse policy, which stated that students in each grade should receive 12 hours a year of substance abuse education. Once parents brought this to the board’s attention, Hertzberg said it was implemented. 

In January 2014, the Northern Valley parents won their battle against random student drug testing when the school board voted 5-4 against adopting the policy. However, once a new board is elected in the fall, the issue may be revisited. 

Hertzberg said the process to getting this result was time-consuming and took a lot of hard work. It’s still unclear what made the school board take up the issue of random student drug testing so abruptly. She said the behavior of some members of the board was appalling, an “abuse of power.” 

“Maybe they were well intentioned, but I’m still puzzled by the way certain board members and members of the community [clung] to the idea that if we only had random student drug testing, the substance abuse problem would be addressed. It doesn’t add up looking at historical data. If they had said, ‘let’s take a step back and look at the issue,’ and properly vetted it, maybe the outcome would have been different.  

“What kept me involved beyond the issue of personal privacy, was the way a group of adults had done something to address the problem of substance abuse. It was ineffective and didn’t help kids who needed help. A life is a terrible thing to waste, and we need to address substance abuse, but in a way that’s effective. [Student drug testing] is not effective and may be harmful.”

 

Erica Sweeney is a freelance writer and editor based in Little Rock, Arkansas. She serves as the editor of Savvy Kids, and writes regularly for the Arkansas Times.

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