Anyone could see that the issue would create some controversy, but I can’t believe the strength of opposition to a privacy rights violation confirmed as permissible by the Supreme Court.
First of all, let me clarify…I am very much against the "war on drugs" and I don’t believe that enforcement of drugs and alcohol addiction issues will ever create any positive change in our society. I also believe that rigid criminal penalization of drug use does far more harm, and promotes far more criminal activity than it could ever hope to reduce; and I am uncomfortable siding with an administration that (despite a dubious personal history of abuse by our commander in chief) has done very little to reduce harsh federal sentencing and done equally little to improve access to treatment by those that need it.
But done well, and with sensitivity, school drug testing gives school administrators and through them parents, the information they need to take concrete and productive steps towards intervention and possibly treatment…as early into drug abuse as is possible. We should not look at drug testing as an enforcement issue, but instead as a fantastic way to improve treatment intervention for a group uniquely vulnerable to the effects of drugs and alcohol.
Early drinking and or drug abuse dramatically increases the risks of ultimately having an abuse issue or dependency to drugs or alcohol, and if we could just keep kids from experimenting for a few more years we would achieve a massive reduction in eventual dependency rates, accompanying social costs and personal devastations.
There have been a number of arguments put forth by those that ideologically oppose drug testing in our schools, and while I respect the motivations of those people that hope to put a stop to the testing, I question their ideations.
Myth no. 1…drug testing won’t protect kid’s rights to confidentiality
Opponents of drug testing in the school blast measures that don’t do enough to protect the privacy rights of kids using drugs or alcohol…but it’s not as if other teens don’t already know who’s using and who isn’t; it’s just educators and parents who are largely in the dark…and kids sharing a joint under the bleachers certainly aren’t hiding their consumption from other teenaged eyes.
We won’t "out" kids abusing drugs or alcohol, we’ll just be able to help them.
Myth no. 2…drug testing will damage trust issues between educators and teens
Another major point of contention amongst opponents to the policy is a belief that drug testing will increase the adversarial nature of the teacher student relationship, and reduce the ability of educators to positively influence the actions of teenagers.
I find this one also pretty ridiculous. Almost 3 quarters of high school kids will illegally use alcohol and almost half will try illicit drugs…clearly the influence of educators has some pretty serious limitations outside of the school environment, and I would even argue that conclusive evidence of abuse would reduce the adversarial nature of a relationship.
Things tend to get most heated when one side accuses without proof, and one side denies while unable to prove absolute innocence. With drug testing, there is no need for uncertainty, and neither is there any need for an adversarial relationship. A positive drug test does not need to be handled punitively within the school environment, but that information does need to be passed to concerned parents who are in a far greater position of influence, and far more able to effect change.
Myth no. 3…drug testing won’t reduce drug taking in schools
Opponents point to studies that polled high school students about whether drug tests would cause them to reduce their consumption as evidence of their ineffectiveness; but drug testing has had real success, most notably in the military where compulsory drug testing has dramatically lowered levels of abuse over the last years.
We should never be drug testing kids looking for an excuse to punish, and all we should be trying to accomplish is to protect teens at risk of abuse and addiction from the greater dangers of drug use. Schools should not be responsible for enacting policies against drug usage, and only parents have enough influence and control over their kids to really induce any real change…unfortunately most parents either never know about drug use, or don’t find out about it until it’s too late, and a recreational usage has become a serious problem.
We don’t need or even want schools to try to influence drug taking…that’s a job for the family; but they are in a great position to spot and conclusively test for usage, and give that information to people who really care and want to see a behavioral change. Parents deserve information that will allow them to take concrete and constructive steps towards drug and alcohol avoidance.
We will have to see…
Drug testing non compliant teenagers does carry some risks, and I don’t think that it should be done with a heavy hand or with punitive measures in mind. But if it is done well, and if schools allow parents the right and responsibility of taking appropriate action after a positive test…I can’t see how drug testing could be anything but a very positive step to protect our kids.