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Drug Testing in Schools

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Drug Testing in Schools

Drug Testing in Schools

“[W]e find that testing students

who participate in extracurricular

activities is a reasonably

effective means of addressing

the School District’s legitimate

concerns in preventing, deterring,

and detecting drug use.”

Justice Clarence Thomas

U.S. Supreme Court

JUNE 27, 2002

Board of Education of Independent School

District No. 92 of Pottawatomie County v. Earls


In June 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court broadened the authority of

public schools to test students for illegal drugs. Voting 5 to 4, the

Court ruled to allow random drug tests for all middle and high

school students participating in ccompetitive extracurricular activities.

The ruling greatly expands the scope of school drug testing, which

previously had been allowed only for student athletes.

There are those, of course, who will represent

the Court’s decision as a blow against privacy

and a victory for “Big Brother.” These concerns

are largely unfounded, however, and to

focus on them is to ignore the enormous

potential benefits of drug testing. Already,

testing has been shown to be extremely effective

at reducing drug use in schools and businesses

all over the country. As a deterrent, few

methods work bbetter or deliver clearer results.

Drug testing of airline pilots and school bus

drivers, for example, has made our skies and

roads safer for travel.

Parents, educators—indeed, anyone concerned about the welfare of

our young people—should welcome the High Court’s action. It’s a

big step in tthe right direction, for it gives every school in every city

and every town a powerful new tool for controlling one of the worst

threats facing kids today.

The ruling could not have come at a better time. Monitoring the

Future, a national survey that tracks drug use among America’s

D R U G T E S T I N G I N S C H O O L S i

John P. Walters

youth, reports that in 2001 more than half of all students had used

illicit drugs by the time they finished high school.Moreover, the

2000 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse revealed that of the

4.5 million people age 12 and older who need drug treatment, 23

percent are teenagers.

This failure to protect our children from drug use aand addiction is

unacceptable.We cannot responsibly withhold tools as effective as

drug testing from communities that believe such measures are

appropriate and will save young lives.

Research shows that people who make it through their teenage years

without using drugs are much less likely to start using them when

they are older. So if testing can help keep kids off drugs and alcohol,

if it can help free young minds for learning and allow growing bodies

to escape the devastating cycle of dependence or addiction, it

will be a vvaluable and important new tool.

Experience has taught us that people at the local level often know

best how to deal with drug problems in their communities. But to

combat this insidious threat, they need good information and the

best resources available. The Supreme Court’s ruling will help

schools meet these needs. This is good news for students, parents,

and teachers. And it is good news for America.

John P.Walters


Office of National Drug Control Policy

D R U G T E S T I N G I N S C H O O L S ii

1 D R U G T E S T I N G I N S C H O O L S


Should Schools Test Children For Illegal Drugs?

It is an important question, and ultimately one best left to parents,

teachers, and school administrators. There is no single right

or wrong answer, no “one size fits all” solution. A decision in June

2002 by the U.S. Supreme Court expands the authority of public

schools to test students for drugs. Still, it is up to individual communities

and schools to decide if drugs are a significant threat,

and if testing is an appropriate response.

The question of whether to test students for drugs or alcohol

should never be taken lightly. It involves myriad complex iissues

that must be fully understood and carefully weighed before testing

begins. The Office of National Drug Control Policy has put

together What You Need

To Know About Drug

Testing in Schools to shed

light and offer perspective

on this multifaceted

and sometimes controversial

topic. Our aim is

to provide anyone who is

considering a drug-testing program in his or her community with

a broad understanding of the issue and solid, up-to-date information

on which to base a decision.

Included in this booklet are answers to questions that students,

parents, school officials, and other concerned individuals might

have about the process. It explains, generally, what drug testing is

all about, who pays for it, who does the testing, what it tells you

about an individual’s drug use, and, equally important, what it

does not tell you. The booklet describes what services should be in

place for communities to deal effectively with students who test

positive for drugs, and it also offers case histories (pages 3 and 12)

showing how several schools used testing to address their drug

problems. Their experiences may help others determine whether

testing is right for their communities.

It is up to communities and schools to

decide if drugs are a significant threat,

and if testing is an appropriate response.

D R U G T E S T I N G I N S C HH O O L S 2

What Did the Court Rule?

In the case of the Board of Education of Independent School

District No. 92 of Pottawatomie County et al. v. Earls et al., the U.S.

Supreme Court upheld a drug-testing program for students involved

in competitive extracurricular activities. Although the ruling allows

schools to test greater numbers of students for drugs, it is not a blanket

endorsement of drug testing for all students. Before implementing

a drug-testing program, schools should engage legal counsel

familiar with the law regarding student drug testing.

Why Drug-Test Students?

Thanks to advances in medical technology, researchers are now

able to capture pictures of the human brain under the influence

of drugs. As these images clearly show, the pleasurable sensations

produced by some drugs are due to actual physical changes in the

brain. Many of these changes are long-lasting, and some are irreversible.

Scientists have recently discovered that the brain is not

fully developed in early childhood, as was once believed, but is in

fact still growing even in adolescence.

Introducing chemical changes in the

brain through the use of illegal drugs

can therefore have far more serious

adverse effects on adolescents than on


Even so-called soft drugs can take a heavy toll. Marijuana’s

effects, for example, are not confined to the “high”; the drug can

also cause serious problems

with memory and learning, as well as

difficulty in thinking and problem solving. Use of methamphetamine

or Ecstasy (MDMA) may cause long-lasting damage to brain

areas that are critical for thought and memory. In animal studies,

researchers found that four days of exposure to Ecstasy caused

damage that persisted for as long as six or seven years. Kids on

drugs cannot perform as well in school as their drug-free peers of

equal ability. So if testing reduces students’ use of illicit drugs, it

will remove a significant barrier tto academic achievement.

Drug Testing: An Overview

If testing can reduce students’

use of illicit drugs, it will

remove a significant barrier

to academic achievement.

D R U G T E S T I N G I N S C H O O L S 3

Case History

A Reward for Staying Clean

Autauga County School System

In rural Autauga County, Alabama, students have a special incentive to

stay off drugs. As part of a voluntary drug-testing program, participating students

who test negative for drugs in random screenings receive discounts

and other perks ffrom scores of area businesses.

Community leaders and school officials, prompted by a growing concern

about the use of drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes among students,

launched the program in 2000 with the help of a local drug-free coalition

called Peers Are Staying Straight (PASS). ““Our community was awakening to

the fact that we needed to do something,” says PASS Executive Director

Martha Ellis.

The Independent Decision program began with just the 7th grade but

will expand each year to include all grade levels. In the 2001–2002 school

year, more than half of all 7th and 8th graders at public and private schools


To enter the program, kids take a urine test for nicotine, cocaine,

amphetamines, opiates, PCP, and marijuana. Those who test negative get a

picture ID that entitles them to special deals at more than 55 participating

restaurants and stores. Students keep the ID as long as they test negative

in twice-yearly random drug tests.

Those who test positive (there have been only three) must relinquish

their cards and any special privileges. The school counselor nnotifies the parents

and, if appropriate, offers advice about where to find help. At that

point, the matter is strictly in the parents’ hands. If the child tests negative

in a subsequent random test, his or her card is returned. “Our whole purpose,”

says Ellis, “is to reward kids who stay clean and help them see the

benefits of a drug-free lifestyle.”

Surveys taken by PRIDE (the National Parents’ Resource Institute for

Drug Education) before the program began and again in 2002 showed significant

reductions in drug use aamong Autauga County’s 8th graders: from

35.9 percent to 24.4 percent for nicotine, 39.9 percent to 30 percent for

alcohol, and 18.5 percent to 11.8 percent for marijuana.

For more information about Autauga’s Independent Decision program,

call (334) 358–4900.

D R U G T E S T I N G I N S C H O O L S 4

Substance abuse should be recognized for what it is—a major

health issue—and dealt with accordingly. Like vision and hearing

tests, drug testing can alert parents to potential problems that

continued drug use might cause, such as liver or lung damage,

memory impairment, addiction, overdose, even death. Once the

drug problem has been identified, intervention and then treatment,

if appropriate, can begin.

Testing can also be an effective way to prevent drug use. The

expectation that they may be randomly tested is enough to make

some students stop using drugs—or never start in the first place.

That kind of deterrence has been demonstrated many times

over in the American workplace. Employees in many national

security and safety-sensitive positions—airline pilots, commercial

truck drivers, school bus drivers, to name a few—are subject to

pre-employment and random drug tests to ensure public safety.

Employers who have followed the Federal model have seen a 67-

percent drop in positive drug

tests. Along with significant

declines in absenteeism, accidents,

and healthcare ccosts,

they’ve also experienced dramatic

increases in worker productivity.

While some students resist the idea of drug testing, many

endorse it. For one thing, it gives them a good excuse to say “no”

to drugs. Peer pressure among young people can be a powerful

and persuasive force. Knowing they may have to submit to a drug

test can help kids overcome the pressure to take drugs by giving

them a convenient “out.” This could serve them well in years to

come: Students represent the workforce of tomorrow, and eventually

many will need to pass a drug test to get a job.

It is important to understand that the goal of school-based

drug testing is not to punish students who use drugs. Although

consequences for illegal drug use should be part of any testing

program—suspension from an athletic activity or revoked parking

privileges, for example—the primary purpose is to deter use

and guide those who test positive into counseling or treatment. In

addition, drug testing in schools should never be undertaken as a

stand-alone response to the drug problem. Rather, it should be

one component of a broader program designed to reduce students’

use of illegal drugs.

The expectation that they may be

randomly tested is enough to make

some students stop using drugs—or

never start in the first place.

What Are the Benefits of Drug TTesting?

Drug use can quickly turn to dependence and addiction, trapping

users in a vicious cycle that destroys families and ruins lives. Students

who use drugs or alcohol are statistically more likely to drop out of

school than their peers who don’t. Dropouts, in turn, are more likely

to be unemployed, to depend on the welfare system, and to commit

crimes. If drug testing deters drug use,

everyone benefits—students, their families,

their schools, and their communities.

Drug and alcohol abuse not only interferes

with a student’s ability to learn, it

also disrupts the orderly environment

necessary for all students to succeed.

Studies have shown that students who use

drugs are more likely to bring guns and

knives to school, and that the more marijuana

a student smokes, the greater the

chances he or she will be involved in physical

attacks, property destruction, stealing,

and cutting classes. Just as parents and

students can expect schools to offer protection

from violence, racism, and other forms of abuse, so do

they have the right to expect a learning environment free from the

influence of illegal drugs.

What Are the Risks?

Schools should proceed with caution before testing students

for drugs. Screenings are not 100 percent accurate, so every positive

screen should be followed by a laboratory-based confirming

test. Before going ahead with tests, schools should also have a

good idea of precisely

what drugs their students are using. Testing

for just one set of illegal drugs when others pose an equal or

greater threat would do little to address a school’s drug problem.

Confidentiality is a major concern with students and their parents.

Schools have a responsibility to respect students’ privacy, so

it is vital that only the people who need to know the test results

see them—parents and school administrators, for example. The

results should not be shared with anyone else, not even teachers.

D R U G T EE S T I N G I N S C H O O L S 5

D R U G T E S T I N G I N S C H O O L S 6

Developing a Testing Program

What Should You Do Before You Begin Testing?

The decision of whether to implement a drug-testing program

should not be left to one individual, or even to a school board. It

should involve the entire community. In fact, by making the effort

to include everyone, a sschool can greatly increase its chances of

adopting a successful testing program.

It is not enough to have a general sense that student drug testing

sounds like a good idea. Schools must first determine whether

there is a real need for testing. Such a nneed can be determined

from student drug-use surveys, reports by teachers and other

school staff about student drug use, reports about drug use from

parents and others in the community, and from discoveries of

drug paraphernalia or drug residue at school.

If student drug use is found

to be a significant problem,

schools will want to consult

early in their deliberations with

an attorney familiar with laws

regarding student drug testing.

They should seek the advice of

drug prevention and treatment

professionals, and also contact

officials at schools that already have drug-testing programs to

learn what works and what doesn’t.

Schools considering testing will want plenty of public input.

They should bring together members of the board of education,

school administrators and staff, parents, community leaders, local

healthcare agencies, local businesses, students, and anyone else

who has an interest in rreducing student drug use—even those

who are against the idea. Listening to opponents and including

their views can strengthen the testing program and improve its

chances ...

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