Public schools

Back to School, Back to Random Drug Tests for Kids Who Did Nothing Wrong

Teens deserve privacy.

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Sports
Dreamstime

This fall, administrators at a public high school in Crivitz, Wisconsin, will begin randomly drug testing student-athletes, student-volunteers, and students with parking spaces—most of the students, really—to deter substance abuse, even though such policies are generally ineffective, according to experts.

The law prevents schools from drug-testing students en masse. But since extracurricular activities and parking spaces are privileges (unlike general school attendance), administrators are technically permitted to conduct drug tests on students who take advantage of those perks. At Crivitz High School, 1,266 of the 1,458 students qualify for random drug testing, according to wbay.com.

Under the recently announced policy, five students will be chosen every other week. These kids must then provide urine samples. Wearegreenbay.com reports:

Administrators say the goal is not to punish students, but rather to protect them. 

"The last couple years, I've noticed here in the high school we've started to get a growing drug problem, I think we've always kind of had a drug problem here in Marinette County," says Crivitz High School Athletic Director, Jeff Dorschner.

If a student refuses or tests positive, they will be given an athletic or club code violation, will have to sit out on activities, go to school counseling, and their parents will be involved. 

Crivitz's policy does not suggest that students who fail the tests will be suspended from class, or arrested. That's a good thing. The worst thing a school can do for a kid who's using drugs (or any kid, really) is to turn him into a criminal or dropout.

Still, there's something sinister about submitting random students to urine tests, without any cause to do so, as if they were prisoners.

In any case, randomly drug testing students is a bad policy, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics:

"The AAP really questions whether that's a worthwhile investment for schools to make when in reality there are really limited dollars to target substance abuse support programs," said Dr. Sharon Levy, past chair of the Committee on Substance Abuse for the American Academy of Pediatrics.

And recent studies reflect poorly on it, according to The Washington Post's Christopher Ingraham:

  • 2013 study looked at 14 years of data on student drug use and found that school drug testing was associated with "moderately lower marijuana use," but increased use of other, more dangerous illicit drugs.
  • 2014 study concluded that drug testing was "was not associated with changes in substance use."
  • 2013 study comparing drug use rates among schools with and without drug testing programs found some short-term deterrent effect among students who were tested, but no effects among students who weren't tested, and no long-term effects on either drug use or intention to use drugs in the future.

It's easy to imagine why this might be the case. Students who participate in sports and other clubs are less likely to abuse drugs, but subjecting this pool of kids to drug tests effectively encourages them not to sign up for extracurricular activities in the first place.

Absent a very compelling reason to do otherwise, school officials should respect their students' privacy.