Pubdate: Sat, 3 Apr 2004
Source: Press Journal (Vero Beach, FL)
Copyright: 2004, The E.W. Scripps Co.
Author: Paul Armentano
Note: Paul Armentano is the senior policy analyst for the NORML Foundation 
in Washington, D.C. Son of Dom and Rose Armentano of Vero Beach, his 
writing has appeared in more than 200 newspapers, books and magazines.
Bookmark: (Students - United States)
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)


Legislation under consideration by the Florida Legislature requiring
middle- and high-school students to undergo random drug testing is no
"silver bullet" in the battle against teen drug use.

Despite the proponents' claims that mandatory drug testing curbs
adolescent drug use, a recent federal study of 76,000 students by the
University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research paints a far
different picture.

The study, published in the Journal of School Health, found there was
no difference in the level of illegal drug use between students in
schools that test for drugs and those in schools that do not.

Despite this poor performance, the Florida Legislature is poised to
mandate random drug testing for all students participating in
extracurricular activities. Lawmakers would be better advised to
abandon the policy all together.

Suspicionless student drug testing is a humiliating, invasive practice
that runs contrary the principles of due process. It compels teens to
submit evidence against themselves and to forfeit their privacy rights
as a necessary requirement for attending school.

(Currently, some Florida schools, such as Indian River Charter High
School, conduct random drug screenings, which are authorized by the
contract parents sign as a condition of their children's enrollment at
those campuses.)

Rather than presuming our school children innocent of illicit activity
- -- as statistically, the overwhelming majority of them are -- until
proven guilty, this policy presumes them guilty until they prove
themselves innocent. Is this the message the Bush administration
wishes to send to America's young people?

There is also concern that suspending students who test positive for
drugs from participating in extracurricular activities may cause
students undue, long-term harm.

According to Dr. Howard Taras, chairman of the American Academy of
Pediatrics Committee on School Health: "(Drug) screening may decrease
involvement in extracurricular activities among students who regularly use
or have once used drugs. Without such engagement in healthy activities,
adolescents are more likely to drop out of school, become pregnant, join
gangs, pursue substance abuse and engage in other risky behaviors."

Finally, student drug testing does not come cheap.

School officials in Dublin, Ohio, recently jettisoned a $35,000 annual
drug-testing program because it proved to be anything but
cost-efficient. Of the 1,473 students tested, 11 tested positive for
illegal drugs. That's a cost of $3,200 per positive student -- hardly
the sort of price tag that can be justified in an era of local and
federal fiscal belt-tightening.

Though random student drug testing may sound like a "silver bullet" in
the administration's campaign to discourage adolescent drug use, it
merely blows open a Pandora's Box of practical, ethical and financial

Students should not be taught that they must abandon their
constitutional liberties at the school door, nor that they must drop
out because their elected officials are willing to write off an entire
generation of students as potential criminals in an overzealous drug
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