Will the expensive, unproven program deter substance abuse? Proponents argue it’s worth the cost to find out –
By Patricia Beech –
Should public school students be drug tested?
It’s a controversial subject and even though statistics do not yet back up the effectiveness of such programs, many high schools across the country are turning to this approach to fight the growing drug problem.
During the 2016-17 school year Manchester Local School District (MLSD) will become the first Adams County school to implement drug testing for students involved in extra-curricular and co-curricular activities.
“We discussed the pros and cons over several meetings,” said MLSD board member Rick Foster. “I believe that the District can contribute to solving the overall drug problem in our region by holding our students to a high standard. The intent never has been to ‘target’ or ‘catch’ students. It will hopefully steer them away from this behavior in the first place.”
However, not all the MLSD board members agree with Foster’s assessment of the program’s purpose or its effectiveness.
“I’m a veteran and I fought for our rights,” said board member Terry Himes. “I believe that drug testing is invasive and we’re presuming guilt before innocence. I think it does more to drive a a stake between adults and children in school. When you tell a student you’re going to drug test them it conveys the idea that they aren’t trusted. So why would they trust any adult?”
The conundrum for school administrators charged with providing a safe, supportive, and healthy school environment is the dismal lack of effective, non- invasive drug prevention programs that work. Given the absence of proven solutions many school districts have opted for the lesser of two evils.
“The effectiveness of this policy will be proven if even just one student makes a choice not to use drugs,” said Foster. “If this new policy can enhance a culture of zero tolerance for drug use in our community, it’s worth it.”
Thus far, there has been no systematic examination of the effectiveness of drug testing in public schools. Study results have been mixed and inconclusive. Some participating schools do not have lower reports of drug use, while others have shown a link between drug testing and the prevalence of drug use.
Given the lack of scientific data supporting the effectiveness of drug testing, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has taken a strong position that student drug testing is not recommended.
Most experts do agree that nurturing a culture of trust between students and adults is fundamental to reducing drug use in public schools.
Himes worries that the policy adopted by the Manchester district will erode the student trust.
“We’re going to drug test them because we don’t believe they’re not doing drugs because they’re so prevalent out there,” he said. “I believe you trust a kid, and when they mess up you offer advice, you love them, you hug them, and ask them what’s wrong, what can we do for you, what’s the problem? I don’t feel like this policy does that.”
Himes says he believes the money used for drug testing would have been better spent on drug prevention measures.
“We never talked about cost during our discussions,” he said. “I was in favor of hiring a counselor with this money. If a student has a drug problem they can talk to a counselor in confidence, they can ask for help and advice. Instead we adopted a policy that says we’re going to test you, we’re going to suspend you for two games, and we’re going to tell you where you can go for help, but we can’t make you go. I feel like we’ve done nothing to help the kids by adopting this policy. All we’ve done is said gotcha.”
The program instituted by the MLSD board requires that students in grades 7 through 12 who participate in extra-curricular and co-curricular activities be subject to random, suspicion-less drug testing.
Extra-curricular activities include interscholastic sports such as football, baseball, cross-county, volleyball, cheerleading, National Honor Society, Beta Club, Academic Team, school musicals, and Color Guard. Co-Curricular activities include (but are not limited to) marching band, Future Farmers of America, and Choir.
Himes argues that targeting these groups is unfair. “Sometimes the extra-curricular and co-curricular activities are the only things that keep a kid in school and achieving,” he said. “And they’re also the kids who are least likely to be using drugs anyway.”
The testing may also include students not participating in extra-curricular or co-curricular activities who voluntarily, and in cooperation with their parents, guardians, or custodians, have chosen to be included in the testing program.
The drug panel test includes (but is not limited to) alcohol, marijuana, amphetamines, Methadone, Methaqualone, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, opiates, cocaine, and Propophene (Darvon).
Students testing positive will not be suspended or expelled from school, nor will they be penalized academically, and any co-curricular activity missed by a student testing positive will be replaced by learning assignments so overall grade average is not effected.
Further, the results of drug tests will not be documented in any student’s academic record, and information regarding the results of drug tests will not be disclosed to criminal or juvenile authorities without legal compulsion by subpoena or other legal process.
The lack of documentation and protection from future disclosure doesn’t change Himes’ concerns about students in the district.
“For kids in Manchester, with our demographics, the school is the best place they’re going to be all day,” he says. “For a lot of them it’s the only food they’ll get all day. And now if feels to me like we’re a penal system.”