A Screed: Random Drug Testing for High School Students

drug testI learned a painful civics lesson tonight:  go to school board meetings.  I went to a meeting tonight to sign a mandatory “consent” form that will allow my daughter to be randomly drug tested at school in order to either participate in extracurricular activities or park on campus.  I’ve heard a thing or two about the new policy here and there, but just shrugged it off.  I guess in the hubbub that is my life, I just heard “drug testing,” and thought: “Whatever.  My kid doesn’t do drugs,” and then didn’t seek out any more details.

So I went to the meeting tonight to hear the details.  The policy has been approved by the school board, so the purpose of the meeting wasn’t to air grievances or to dissent.  It was to listen to a mini-lecture by a local doctor on why drugs are bad for us, to hear how the testing will actually be done from the doctor who runs the lab who will be doing the testing, and then to ask questions.

The high school has approximately 1700 students.  Beginning in the fall, all students who participate in any extracurricular activities and students who park on campus will be drug tested.  After the initial testing, they will pull a random sample of 5% of that pool and test them every two weeks.  The students will be pulled out of class in what will “hopefully” be a quick in-and-out procedure (?).  If the drug test comes back positive (and is confirmed to be positive), the kid gets suspended from his/her extracurricular activities and cannot park on campus.  There is a stricter consequence for second and third offenses.

After learning some of these details, they opened it up for questions.  Someone asked why they decided to pursue this option:  is there a “big drug problem” at Nac High School?  The school district representative said nope, there’s not a big drug problem.  This new drug testing policy is not a punishment; it’s a deterrent. 

Someone else asked what would happen if the student couldn’t pee on demand (although she asked it more politely than that).  [Incidentally, I just had labwork done yesterday—including a urine test—and was only able to leave the tiniest amount of urine in the cup.  I sat there and sat there and finally gave up.  I had to get to work. TMI??]  The doctor (whose lab must be profiting from setting up these drug tests at high schools, community colleges, universities, etc.) said it “shouldn’t be a problem” because the students will be doing this “in a comfortable environment” (super cozy environment with a lab tech sitting outside the door listening to them.).  And if they can’t right away, a coach or another administrator (who is presumably also hovering nearby) will give them water and up to three hours to produce the sample.  He wrapped up that question by saying, “Look, they’re gonna get used to this.”  (Whah?  I don’t really want my 16 year old to get used to random drug testing.)

Finally someone asked how much this was going to cost the district.  We learned that it’s projected to cost between $26,000-30,000 a year.  That seems like a lot of money to fix a non-problem.  But sure, of course I wish high school kids didn’t use/abuse illegal drugs.

Then I asked for the percentage of positive drug tests they have seen in other high schools and was told that it was 5%.  Then 5-8%.  All the way up to 40%.  O-kay. 

Here’s the bottom line for me:  I don’t like for schools and prisons to have policies in common.  Schools already look like prisons.  Take pretty much any American high school built within the last 20-30 years.  It’s likely to look like a big rectangle.  Very few windows, very little open air, very little green space, straight hallways with classrooms (cells?) on either side, you get the picture. 

  • I don’t like metal detectors in schools.  I don’t think kids should show up to school and basically be told:  we assume you are going to bring weapons into school.  Therefore, we’ll treat you like criminals before you choose to become one.
  • I don’t like strict dress codes/uniforms (I know, I know, I’ve heard the “pros”).  I say pick your battles on this one.  Does it really detract from the learning process if a kid has baggy pants?  Really?
  • Brent recently visited an area high school (not ours) and was shocked to see that there were no stall walls or doors in the bathrooms.  None.  Just toilets screwed into the cement floor.  This is degrading and humiliating.  Remember:  it’s a school, not a POW camp.
  • I don’t like for my kids to tell me they spent the day “in lockdown.”  This is prison-speak.  When they say this, what they mean is that they didn’t get to go to music or PE or the computer lab because another grade was doing standardized testing. 
  • And whatever you do, please, for the love of God, don’t talk to me about teachers and administrators carrying concealed weapons.  Please.  They’re teachers, not police officers or prison guards. 

Sigh.  I’m a hippie, it seems.  I think school policies send powerful messages to students about the degree to which we trust them and believe in them (or, in all too many cases, the degree to which we distrust them—even before they’ve had the opportunity to lose our trust).

I don’t think distrust and fear make for good starting points in the classroom. 

But, I didn’t go to the school board meetings.  I was too busy living my own life to do my homework.  I don’t know whether I could’ve changed the direction of the policy, but I at least wouldn’t feel so stuck.

P.S.  All our kids have had a lot of really great teachers—both in Louisiana and here in Texas, so this is in no way an indictment of them.  And I’ve never once felt afraid to send them to school.  God bless America.