Pubdate: Fri, 25 Jul 2003
Source: Tuscaloosa News, The (AL)
Copyright: 2003 The Tuscaloosa News
Author: Katherine Lee
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)
Bookmark: (Youth)


In an effort to stem what's perceived to be a rampant problem with
drug abuse on high school campuses, more and more schools around the
country are gearing up to conduct random drug tests on students.

Morgan County is one of them. Starting this fall, it will test about 5
percent of students in each school between three and eight times
throughout the school year. And Decatur City Schools are already doing

It could be argued, as indeed it has, that testing students for
drugs is a violation of their Fourth Amendment right against
unreasonable search and seizure. Civil libertarians point to random
drug tests as a serious invasion of a student's privacy.

It could also be argued that teen drug use is a serious problem that
school administrators are trying to counter by any means, including
random tests to discover those students who are abusing drugs.

Students who are found with drugs in their system face disciplinary
action, counseling or parent-teacher meetings in the growing number of
states, including Alabama, where random school testing is conducted.

For some, it's a tool in the war on drugs in schools. It weeds out the
students who need help and identifies the ones who might prove to be

But in truth, random drug testing sends no clearer message to students
than that they aren't to be trusted.

While students need adult direction and supervision, at some point we
have to decide as a society how much we want to sacrifice privacy for

Drug testing costs a lot. A supervisor for the Decatur City Schools
said his school system spent $16,000 last year on drug tests. Morgan
County is trying to save money on its drug tests by not testing for
tobacco. The company that would conduct the tests charges $25 to $30
for each test.

Most of those drug tests are done on students who participate in
athletics or other extracurricular activities. Shelby County conducts
drug tests on students who drive to school.

But there's a danger that, for fear of being tested, students may stay
away from cheerleading, the yearbook, band or sports, which seems
counter to the established notion that participation in such
activities keeps students too busy and involved to experiment with

In order to alleviate parents' and administrators' fears of not being
able to control the hidden "druggies," student privacy is subject to
our own paranoia.

And yet for all that effort and money, there is no overwhelming
evidence that testing students deters them from taking drugs. Rather,
it often has the opposite of its intended effect. If we're trying to
get kids to stay in school and participate in activities that will
keep them away from drugs, we're sending them the wrong message by
testing them as soon as they show up at all.

And the real lesson we take away from drug testing? Rather than
telling kids they should stay off drugs because they're bad for you,
we teach our children to be as devious as teen-age minds can contrive.

We teach them to sneak their joints at opportune times, that it's
better to get drunk than high if you want to fool the tests, that
ecstasy doesn't stay in the system as long as marijuana.

Some students have objected to this invasion of their privacy,
including star students with good grades who have been branded
troublemakers and drug abusers because they don't want to pee in a cup
for the benefit of their teachers.

The consequences of this course of action can reach far into the
future. By teaching students that their right to privacy is secondary
to a nebulous argument about public health, we teach them forever
after to give up their civil liberties without objection if they're
told it's being done for a greater good.

We would do far better with education than testing, by talking to our
own children instead of prying into their diaries, by offering them
the benefit of our time and concern instead of a cup to pee in.

The Supreme Court may have ruled that testing students falls within
constitutionally protected parameters but that's small comfort to a
student enduring the indignity of a urine sample when his only crime
may be that he's too respectful of his elders to object.

We have a responsibility to provide a safe and secure learning
environment for students, but forcing students who run track, play the
trumpet or edit the student newspaper to be humiliated every 30 days
under the rubric of "protecting our schools" is sacrificing civil
liberties for a doubtful benefit.

Teen drug use is a serious problem, but random drug testing is not an
effective answer.

It just teaches kids to go underground. If they feel their school's
reaction is likely to be more draconian than understanding, they're
not likely to view drug testing as a particularly helpful way to get
adults to listen to them. Because the message we're sending now is
that we're not.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin