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Drug Testing News
Schools should stay
away from drug testing
Last Updated: May 8, 2003
It was only a matter of time before school districts in
Waukesha County made the move toward random, mandatory drug
testing of high school students in extracurricular activities.
The U.S. Supreme Court opened the door to broader drug testing
in public schools last June, though barely, with a 5-4 vote.
The decision found drug tests reasonable in schools' attempts
to prevent, deter and detect drug use.
Now two local school districts - Pewaukee and Oconomowoc -
seem headed there. Only about 20 of the state's 426 school
districts now have such a policy, says the Wisconsin
Association of School Boards.
In Pewaukee, the school board has asked for a sample policy
for random drug testing of students in sports and other
extracurricular activities after parents - nearly 300
responded of the 600 surveyed - voiced strong support.
In Oconomowoc, a testing program was recommended by a
community committee exploring drug issues. The school board
wants feedback from students, parents and others affected
before taking up a proposed policy again.
It looks like the districts are taking their time. That's
good. Just like the Supreme Court's vote, this new territory
is a close call, I think.
Even the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy
has some cautions on the subject in its guide, "What You Need
to Know About Drug Testing in Schools."
"It is not enough to have a general sense that student drug
testing sounds like a good idea," the report says. "Schools
must first determine whether there is a real need for testing."
And, "schools considering testing will want plenty of public
I didn't particularly like the idea three years ago when
administrators in my district - Waukesha - suggested (and then
dropped) a drug testing policy. I don't like the idea much
True, some high school students drink, smoke pot or use other
drugs. The threat of getting caught might make them think
twice about the risk and stay clean. Not just at one party,
but perhaps even into adulthood. Students who don't imbibe
have nothing to worry about. And when these students reach the
real world, chances are they'll face drug testing as a
condition of employment.
True, all true. Still, there are other considerations.
Students most engaged in school through activities are the
only ones subjected to testing. Certainly they are no more
prone to drug use than the disengaged students - and very
likely less prone - yet they're the ones who must prove
themselves trustworthy. That's the wrong message.
Students on the fringe might quit a useful sports team or
school activity rather than risk positive tests for drug use,
turning a bad situation worse.
Other issues? Technical ones, like false positives, ways to
beat the tests, and tests that fail to detect alcohol,
inhalants or other drugs. Lost privacy. Parents who let school
drug tests take them off the hook for keeping a supervisory
Finally, what happens to students who do test positive? Do
they sit out a ball game or two or a couple of school play
performances? Or do they get some real help?
In these terrible budget times, many school districts are
making painful cuts in many programs. Programs that keep
students on track - from smaller class sizes to music
enrichment that helps self-discipline, from guidance
counselors and social workers to services for at-risk
Waylaid money spent on easy-answer drug testing is hardly
what's needed to keep our kids headed in the right direction.