Here's Your Cup, Junior

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from Paradise, Calif., to Pequannock, N.J., are turning in more
than just their homework this school year. At the behest of the
White House, tens of thousands of middle and high school students
are required to randomly submit their urine to school authorities
– and it’s America’s taxpayers who are footing the bill.

Though promoted
as a "silver bullet" in the Bush administration’s efforts
to curb teen drug use, the reality of random student drug testing
is far less flattering. Student drug testing without suspicion is
ineffective, costly and opens a "Pandora’s Box" of serious
ethical questions. That’s according to the only federally commissioned
study ever to assess the efficacy of student drug testing on a national
basis. The study, conducted by the University of Michigan’s Institute
for Social Research, found no difference in the level of illegal
drug use between students in schools that test for illicit drugs
and those in schools that do not.

testing of students in schools does not deter use," said the
University of Michigan news release summarizing the findings of
the four-year study, which was later published in the Journal of
School Health. "At each grade level studied – 8, 10 and
12 – the investigators found virtually identical rates of drug
use in schools that have drug testing and the schools that do not."

More recently,
a comprehensive review by Britain’s distinguished Joseph Rowntree
Foundation also gave student drug testing a failing grade. Their
report noted that objective evidence supporting the effectiveness
of random student drug testing is "remarkably thin" and
warned that the policy could do greater harm than good.

That’s because
student drug testing "undermine[s] trust between pupils and
staff" and in some cases "encourage[s] pupils to switch
from [the] use of cannabis … that can be traced a relatively long
time after use, to drugs that are cleared from the body much more
quickly, including heroin."

In other words,
if you’re looking for a surefire way to persuade little Johnny to
switch from pot to binge drinking or crank, look no further than
student drug testing.

Experts also
warn that suspending students from participating in extracurricular
activities for failing or refusing to take a drug test may cause
teens undue and long-term harm. According to professor Howard Taras,
chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on School
Health: "[Drug] screening may decrease involvement in extracurricular
activities among students who regularly use or have once used drugs.
Without such engagement in healthy activities, adolescents are more
likely to drop out of school, become pregnant, join gangs, pursue
substance abuse and engage in other risky behaviors."

the Bush administration has turned a blind eye to these concerns.
This spring, the administration sponsored a series of regional symposiums
to encourage public school districts nationwide to enact random,
student drug testing.

The White House
also proposed increasing federal funding for student drug testing
programs by more than 150 percent – the bulk of which is earmarked
to pay for the implementation of local student drug testing programs
at taxpayers’ expense.

To date, Congress
has raised barely a whisper about the administration’s record funding
request. Most recently, politicians refused to debate an amendment
to the House Labor and Education appropriations bill that sought
to scale back the administration’s proposed expansion of the program.
Congress and the White House would be best advised to abandon the
policy altogether.

Random drug
testing of students is a humiliating, invasive practice that runs
contrary to the principles of due process. It compels teens to potentially
submit evidence against themselves and forfeit their privacy rights
as necessary requirements for attending school. Rather than presuming
our school children innocent of illicit activity, drug testing without
suspicion presumes them guilty until they prove themselves innocent.
Is this truly the message the Bush administration wishes to send
to America’s young people?

Students should
not be taught that they must abandon their constitutional liberties
at the school door or that they must submit to an invasion of their
privacy because those in Washington are willing to write off an
entire generation of students as potential criminals in their overzealous
"war" on drugs.

12, 2005

Paul Armentano [send him mail]
is the senior policy analyst for the NORML Foundation
in Washington, DC. This article was originally published in the

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