Pubdate: Fri, 18 Jan 2008
Source: Huntsville Times (AL)
Copyright: 2008 The Huntsville Times
Author: John Ehinger, for the editorial board.
Bookmark: (Students - United States)
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)


Madison's Plan Could Be Worse, But That Isn't Saying Much

The superintendent of Madison City Schools has worked hard to come up 
with a fair and rational drug testing policy for students. His 
efforts have eased some concerns, perhaps even most concerns. But the 
proposed policy remains flawed. It may not violate basic 
constitutional protections, but it pushes government power right up 
to the very edge of individual liberty.

If passed, the policy would apply only to students - middle and high 
schoolers - who drive to school or participate in extracurricular 
activities. The test involves a saliva sample, which removes the 
humiliation of having to urinate in a jar, as some programs require.

The tests would be given at random. A student and a student's parent 
or guardian would have to give permission ahead of time. Where the 
student or parent refused to give permission, the student couldn't 
get a parking pass or take part in covered activities.

So what happens if a student refuses the test or has a positive 
result? Nobody calls the police, and the student is not expelled or 
suspended. Instead, depending on the number of positive tests or 
refusals, the student would be subject to a series of penalties 
relating to extracurricular activities and parking.

For a fourth positive test or refusal, the student would be banned 
from activities and denied parking privileges for as long as that 
student attends Madison schools. A system would be in place for a 
student to re-enter the testing program and regain lost privileges.

The policy would treat refusal to take the test the same way it 
treats a positive result. It wouldn't matter if the student refused 
merely because he or she objected to the policy. The outcome - and 
the resulting stigma - would be the same.

At the same time, it would be possible for a student to be a heavy 
drug user or even a drug dealer and still be in the school system 
unless other circumstances (possession, sale or evidence of use) came 
into play.

Superintendent Dee Fowler and other officials have built in a number 
of safeguards against false positive results and so forth. They are 
very specific in the application of the policy only to students in 
extracurricular activities or who drive to school. But that is not 
because a broader policy necessarily offends officials' 
sensibilities. Rather, it's because the U.S. Supreme Court has drawn 
the line at such testing.

One-way street

Nothing in the policy provides any treatment for those who test 
positive. Fowler has said treatment isn't the school system's role. 
Indeed, it is not, but neither is it the system's role to try to 
combat every alarming trend in society as a whole or to attempt to 
overcome the effects of negligent parenting. Even if testing were 
necessary or desirable, wouldn't treatment or counseling meet the 
same standard?

Editorials on this page have supported drug-testing for cause. Random 
drug testing of students goes too far. The provisions applying it to 
extracurricular activities and to parking are merely legal cover.

If parents relinquish this power to the system of public education, 
what might they relinquish next? Without evidence of wrongdoing, the 
erosion of both rights and the individual's privacy hurtles society 
down what history has shown all too often to be a one-way street.

What the Madison school board proposes could be worse, but that's 
hardly a recommendation.

By John Ehinger, for the editorial board.
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