More Schools Randomly Testing Students for Alcohol and Drugs

Children, Education, News

Drug Free School Zone Sign Earlier this month, the Orange County School Board passed a measure allowing random drug testing of students involved in extracurricular activities. The past few years have seen more students being tested for substance abuse as more schools across the country implement new drug testing policies. The efficacy of these measures is questionable, and not everyone is supportive of them.

Breadth of Drug Testing Increases

Recent trends have expanded to test more students for more substances. Previously confined to student athletes, many schools are now expanding drug testing now to include all students involved in extracurricular activities and even to middle school students. Several public schools in New Jersey are testing larger numbers of students. Testing for alcohol use is becoming more common, too. A private school in Chicago has been randomly drug testing students since 2007 and starting this year will test for alcohol use via hair samples.

Consequences for students failing drug tests vary from school to school, and can include being banned from extracurricular activities, mandatory substance abuse counseling, or disciplinary action.

These policies are not without controversy. In late June, parents came out in large numbers to a New Jersey school board meeting to protest the proposed drug testing policy. Many parents objected to not being involved in the process and some wondered if the program would even be effective.

For and Against Random Student Drug Testing

Studies on the efficacy of such programs are inconclusive or conflicting, and it hasn’t been shown that drug testing programs are the best use of a school’s resources. The Orange County School Board expects each school to spend around $7,000 per year on testing, money that could be spent instead on drug education or counseling programs.

Despite the lack of hard evidence, school administrators insist that drug and alcohol testing policies are effective preventative measures. Knowing they face random drug tests gives students another reason to say “no.” Students know that if they fail a drug test, they will have to face consequences at school and at home. Schools also believe they have a duty to combat the drug problem among teens, which has seen a rise in marijuana, synthetic marijuana, and prescription drug abuse in recent years.

Still, not all parents are convinced. Some think that these policies will simply discourage students from taking part in extracurricular activities, while others are concerned about violation of privacy.

U.S. Supreme Court Upheld Student Drug Testing Twice

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has long been against student drug testing, and as early as 2002 outlined its opposition to it. The ACLU and many parents believe that it’s a constitutional question, and the Supreme Court agrees.

In two separate cases, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that students can be subject to random drug tests. The first, in 1995, approved testing on student athletes and the second, in 2002, approved testing on all middle and high school students taking part in extracurricular activities. The court determined that in neither case were students’ constitutional rights being violated.

The question has also been heard in various state courts. Taking a different stance from the U.S. Supreme Court, in 2008 the Washington State Supreme Court ruled against suspicionless drug testing of student athletes. In March 2012 the ACLU filed suit on behalf of an 11-year-old student identified as “MM,” protesting her Pennsylvania school’s testing policy. The suit was dropped in August when the student transferred to another school.

Trying Alternatives

At one Indiana school, parents were given drug tests to use on their middle school children at home. Tests were provided by the group Citizens Against Substance Abuse and were not paid for by the school district. Perhaps more measures like this will get parents talking with their children about the issues of alcohol and drug abuse without concerns over schools violating privacy. However, the trend to broaden the reach of drug testing is unlikely to go away anytime soon.