My Turn: Random drug tests undermine trust

Posted: Monday, September 30, 2002

To those school board candidates who favor random drug testing for students who participate in extracurricular activities - have you really thought about this or were you merely parroting some sound bite spun off by the "war on drugs?"

Why is random drug testing of students participating in extracurricular activities a bad idea? Let me mention eight points which militate against this ill-thought out idea. These are gleaned from an excellent Web site:

Random drug testing damages parent-child and teacher-student relationships. Drug testing young people when they are not actually suspected of using drugs sends the message to them that they are not to be trusted or respected. If kids are not trusted or respected by elders, including teachers, counselors and coaches, they are unlikely to be open and honest with them about problems, including drug usage. We as parents are the ones best suited to make decisions about raising our children, including if, when, and where they should be tested for drug use. Random, mandatory testing takes away from parental decision-making power.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Education Association, and the American Public Health Association joined together with many others in opposing suspicionless drug testing in Oklahoma and argued, among other things, that participants in extracurricular activities are far less likely to use tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs than their non-involved peers and that testing students deters them from participation with many negative consequences.

Drug testing is a waste of money to school districts hard pressed for funding for basic educational programs. Recently, the Dublin, Ohio, Board of Education decided to end a two-year program that cost $70,000 to test 1,500 students with only 20 positive hits and to hire a full-time drug and alcohol counselor instead. Additionally, there are no good studies that show that random testing actually decreases teen drug use.

Extracurricular activities are among the most effective anti-drug programs. According to the U.S. Department of Education and Department of Justice, most students drug use occurs between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. when school is out and parents aren't home from work. According to the National Institute of Out of School Time, students who spend one to four hours a week in extracurricular activities are 49 percent less likely to use drugs and 37 percent less likely to become teen parents, than students who don't participate. Random testing deters student involvement in activities, which are most likely to keep them off drugs.

Random testing mostly detects marijuana use, for up to two weeks after the fact, and does not detect prior alcohol, methamphetamine, ecstasy, or cocaine use, substances which quickly leave the body. Those who are determined to outwit a drug test can easily find a way to do so, or just switch to other more harmful drugs which aren't easily detectable.

Drug testing threatens the privacy rights of students. Alaskans do have a constitutional right of privacy. Mr. Van Slyke and Mr. Kikendall both used the analogy of extracurricular activities being privileges, thus you give up your rights in order to participate. Well, driving is a privilege. Would either of them gladly pull over for a suspicionless, random sampling of their urine by the troopers at any time? I would hope not.

Certain students may be unfairly targeted for sampling by "profiling" based on their ideas or appearance or racial or economic background.

Lastly, drug testing companies are "big business" and, as such, are ultimately accountable to their shareholders and to their bottom line. Do you really want to turn over your own parental responsibilities and the educational objectives of our public schools to for-profit corporations.

Mr. Kaden, 59, is a 35-year resident of Alaska, including 10 years in Juneau, a retired attorney and a long-time activist for civil rights and civil liberties.

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