Earlier this year, Jeff Studebaker, safety manager for the East Allen County Schools (EACS) in Indiana, proposed that schools start random drug testing on students in grades 7-12 in a preventive effort to cut down on student alcohol, tobacco, and drug use. In June, Studebaker’s policy passed for the upcoming 2015-2016 school year to start drug testing students who participate in athletics and extracurricular activities. Students who elect to drive themselves to school will also be subject to the random drug testing policy.
EACS and Studebaker hope that the institution of these drug tests on certain members of the student body will motivate them to consider the acute and chronic side effects of substances banned from campuses (all of which are illegal for minors to take). Administrators assume that the probability of a drug test will help students have a valid out when faced with peer pressure.
The new policy is not without punishment for students who fail to pass the drug tests. Depending on the number of positive-test offenses, students face suspension from athletics, extracurricular activities, and/or driving to school from 1/3 of the academic year to the entirety of their high school experience. The school district cannot test any student without the written permission of a parent or guardian, but it can prohibit a student from participating in their respective school activities without a signature consenting to the random drug testing. By leaving students without a choice in submitting to the drug tests if they want to be active in school clubs and athletics, the district hopes to leave them with only one choice in saying no to drugs and alcohol.
The EACS drug testing policy is fraught with problems, the largest being that a student who tests positive for banned substances one time will also be banned from engaging in school activities, athletics, or a self-commute to school that could benefit that student’s future or current situation. Sports and extracurricular activities give students a sense of accomplishment and positive social interaction, not to mention they appeal to college application committees. But secondary students are also prone to making rash and ill-informed decisions, even when they are inundated with health education that teaches them about the dangers of illegal substances. Peer pressure can still be stronger to a young person than the threat of an administrator, and limiting a student’s ability to be in a positive extracurricular environment for one infraction is extreme and counterproductive.
Additionally, Studebaker claims that he and school officials are “looking for kis who need help” by institutiting the drug tests, yet they are targeting students who elect to participate in school activities by testing them with an oral swab. Oral fluids do not carry drugs and alcohol for as long as other drug testing methods (like urine), so they tend to miss habitual users and catch very recent intoxication. Studebaker says that he saw other school districts utilize random drug testing on students and achieve positive test rates of 2% or lower. One could assume that this rate is due to students using less out of fear that they will test positive, but it is just as likely that the students involved in school activities aren’t using drugs and alcohol as often, or they weren’t using them within a window that an oral swab would detect.
Keeping illicit drugs, alcohol, and tobacco out of schools is definitely a worthy goal to ensure student and faculty safety, but keeping children out of enriching school organizations for one infraction isn’t worth affecting their future or access to a positive environment.