What can a high school principal do to keep the public relations train chugging toward disaster when he's already adopted the ethically questionable policy of mandatory drug testing for an entire student body? By censoring a student who calls instead for a policy of greater accountability and personal responsibility, of course. That's what the administrators of St. Ignatius High School (SIHS) in Cleveland, Ohio did this week.
As a recap, SIHS and two other Catholic schools recently teamed up with Psychemedics Corporation to drug test all their students–about 1,450 at SIHS alone and nearly 3,000 total. The schools issued contradictory statements about whether or not there's actually a drug problem, but assured that the policy was for student safety. It's pure coincidence, administrators insisted when asked by alt-weekly Cleveland Scene, that Psychemedics CEO Raymond Kubacki is part of SIHS's old boys' network, is the brother of one of the other school's principals, and has explicitly stated that high schools are his new target since workplace drug testing is waning. Reason covered more details on the situation here.
Dissenting students were disenfranchised by Cleveland's only major paper, the Plain Dealer, which exclusively quoted to pupils who were hand-picked by administrators and just happened to think drug testing is cool.
This left a bad taste in the mouth of SIHS senior Benjamin Seeley, who wrote a critical article intended for his school paper. Here's an excerpt:
The school should not assume responsibility for student health; that is the place of parents. The initiative shows signs of noble intent, but it wasn't necessary in the first place. If the school is concerned about drugs, and feels oversight is the only solution, it should recommend parents themselves administer the tests….
A study by the University of Pennsylvania Annenberg Public Policy Center found that instituting mandatory random drug tests in high schools had no impact on student drug use for males… and that the testing worked only to further the divide between administration and student.
Seeley also suggested that kids will stop using harmless drugs like marijuana and in favor of alcohol, since it won't show up on the test. He concluded by calling upon his classmates to "demand that the school offer worthy explanations to you for their choice of drug-tester, and a response to why substantive pieces of evidence against drug testing were ultimately tossed out" and that they should "refuse to be made pawns of."
Proving that it could alienate itself from the students in other ways, the SIHS administration reportedly blocked the publication of Seeley's article for being "seditious." So, Scene published it instead.
Seeley's compatriots are in a difficult situation. They do have the option of leaving their private institution. The Supreme Court has affirmed Fourth Amendment rights and limits drug testing in public schools, but given the caliber of Cleveland's public education it's highly unlikely any SIHS student will make that move. And, having a bad alternative doesn't negate the fact that their privacy is still being curtailed and their once-presumed innocence replaced by Psychemedics' lab results.
It's a shame to see a crop of thousands of teenagers needlessly roped into the war on drugs. If nothing else, the experience will hopefully teach them just how ineffective, unsettlingly invasive, and common sense-defying these kinds of policies and their proponents are.