Pubdate: Thu, 29 Mar 2007
Source: Beacon, The (NJ)
Copyright: 2007 The Princeton Packet, Inc.
Authors: Kathryn Hall, Jim Mastrich


To the editor:

We agree drug use and abuse is a serious issue and whether or not to 
use drugs is among the most important decisions a young person will make.

That said, we are also strongly opposed to the policy of random, 
mandatory and suspicion-less drug testing being considered by the 
South Hunterdon Regional High School Board of Education.

This policy would require all students in grades seven through 12 who 
participate in extracurricular activities or who have parking permits 
at South Hunterdon High School to submit to random drug testing, 
involving the collection and testing of their urine.

We are not alone in our opposition to mandatory drug testing in the 
schools. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Education 
Association, the American Public Health Association, the National 
Association of Social Workers as well as the National Council on 
Alcohol and Drug Dependence itself are all opposed to such policies.

We oppose this policy for several reasons. The first and perhaps most 
important is this policy represents a serious violation of students' 
civil rights.

While there are occasions of serious danger to the safety of a 
community in which civil rights must be suspended, we do not believe 
this is the case for students at South Hunterdon, especially since 
the students who participate in extracurricular activities are those 
students who are the least likely to use drugs and alcohol.

In fact, the most dangerous times for students in terms of risk to 
abuse drugs and alcohol are the hours after school and before parents 
return home from work. Drug testing this group of students is 
violating the civil rights of a group who are least likely to be at 
serious risk.

The choice to participate in extracurricular activities should not be 
accompanied by a requirement to be drug tested. Make no mistake, this 
policy forces students to choose between their civil rights and their 
ability to participate in meaningful school-sponsored activities. 
This is a coercive policy.

Another reason we oppose this policy is it intrudes on parents' 
rights to determine the best interests of their children. This policy 
violates parents' right to determine the medical, emotional and 
mental health needs of their children in the absence of any evidence 
of a problem.

We believe parents should be responsible for their children. If the 
school has a reason to suspect, on the basis of a child's behavior or 
grades in school, a child has a problem (drug-related or otherwise), 
they should inform the parents who can then make appropriate decisions.

Sending our children to school and allowing or encouraging our 
children to be more involved with their school in the form of 
extracurricular activities should not require us to relinquish our 
rights as parents to make decisions regarding our children.

If parents want to have their children tested for drug use, this 
option is already available to them in what we believe is the more 
appropriate environment of their doctor's office.

A third reason we are opposed to this policy is it is not effective, 
either in terms of deterrence or cost to the school. Mandatory, 
random and suspicion-less drug testing has not been found to be 
effective in deterring drug use among students.

In fact, in the only large-scale study to look at this issue, there 
was no difference in terms of drug use between schools that do and do 
not require drug testing.

Random drug testing has up-front and hidden costs associated with it. 
It will cost money not only to carry out the screening of urine 
samples, but it will cost money to train school personnel to 
implement this program in a way that is least likely to seriously 
harm a student.

It will cost money to defend the school against a potential lawsuit 
in which a student is harmed by the violation of their 
confidentiality, for example, teachers becoming aware of 
medical/psychiatric conditions; students being denied the opportunity 
for athletic scholarship because of a false positive drug test.

Given this is not an effective program, and the students who would be 
targeted by this program are also the least at risk for drug use and 
abuse, it makes more sense to us to use our scarce resources where 
they would benefit more students and the more at-risk students.

There are less costly and more effective alternatives. Offering and 
involving more students in extracurricular activities that would 
expose them to teachers and other positive role models and would 
productively occupy students at the time they are most at risk for 
drug and alcohol use is just one example.

Drug tests are not infallible or harmless nor are the results 
confidential. There are drug tests that are false positives. There 
are drug tests that are positive because of prescription medications.

In these cases, the positive drug test would expose a medical 
condition that a family would otherwise prefer to keep private.

Under the proposed policy, a positive drug test would result in the 
mandatory suspension of extracurricular activities or parking 
privileges, which would be punitive or at least detrimental, 
especially to vulnerable students.

These consequences would also lead, at minimum, to the speculation 
the student in question had tested positive for drugs, violating his 
or her right to privacy and confidentiality.

At South Hunterdon, we are a small community. The school already has 
a policy that allows for drug testing of students who shows signs of 
alcohol or drug use, albeit conducted in the more appropriate 
environment of a doctor's office.

Because of our small size, we have the unique opportunity and ability 
to know our students, to build a community of trust and to involve 
our students in ways that would prevent first or subsequent drug use.

We are hopeful the Board of Education will decline to pass a policy 
requiring random and suspicion-less drug testing of our children. The 
present policy of drug testing for cause, combined with efforts to 
reach out and prevent drug use among the entire student body and, 
perhaps, especially among the disenfranchised students, would show 
our students we care about them to do the very best, even if it takes 
a little more effort on our part.

Kathryn Hall

Jim Mastrich

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