August 22, 2016
Random drug-testing of middle-schoolers — with penalties — has become a reality for a school district in New Jersey that already does so with high school students.
Though the Lacey Township Board of Education program will be implemented purely on a “voluntary” basis for seventh and eighth graders who participate in athletic programs and extracurricular activities — and only then with parental consent — the invasiveness of the plan should sound a number of alarm bells.
“I’m a supporter for any intervention to give another reason for kids to say ‘no’ and that can start at any age, especially with our young teens,” district superintendent Craig Wigley told NJ Advance Media following the school board’s vote on August 15.
Students will be offered the option to participate in the random drug-testing program, but the parents of those who do must sign a 12-month consent form.
Worse, the school plans to hand down stiff penalties to students who test positive — a first violation would bar a student from participation in sports and extracurriculars for 10 days, and on a second offense, the suspension would last 45 days. A third strike, unsurprisingly, bars the ‘offending’ student from athletics and extracurriculars permanently.
Students who sign up for the program but refuse to take a drug test when selected would face the same harsh penalties as those who test positive for drugs — meaning voluntary participants must adhere to the plan, or else.
“It’s really another tool for schools and families to keep their kids safe,” Wigley continued. “I think it’s a wonderful addition and it’s good to be in the forefront of that. We’re being proactive.”
It would be feasible to imagine civil liberties advocates would beg to differ with that assessment, but NJ Advance Media apparently didn’t contact any for an opposing viewpoint. The Free Thought Project reached out to the New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union for comment, but at the time of publication, had not received a response.
As NJ Advance Media noted, the school board’s program will allow up to 40 students per month to be tested from September 1 through the end of the school year — but no explanation for the 12-month length of consent was provided.
As the outlet wrote:
“The board of education will annually adopt the list of prohibited substances and determine the cut-off levels for each substance that determines a positive test before the beginning of each school year. The list of prohibited substances is expected to including alcohol, amphetamines, barbiturates, cocaine, marijuana, ecstasy, methamphetamine, opiates and any others substance defined as a controlled dangerous substance by state law.”
As noted by High Times, the American Academy of Pediatrics generally opposes random or ‘suspicionless’ drug testing in schools, citing the lack of efficacy versus potential risks.
“Proponents of random drug testing refer to potential advantages such as students avoiding drug use because of the negative consequences associated with having … positive drug test results,” the AAP wrote in a statement in March 2015, “while opponents of random drug testing agree that the disadvantages are much greater, and can include deterioration in the student-school relationship, confidentiality of students’ medical records, and mistakes in interpreting drug tests that can result in false-positive results.”
AAP does support identifying possible substance abusers so appropriate assistance could be provided, but feels testing should be left to pediatricians.
As NJ Advance Media unironically reported, “No student will be penalized academically for testing positive for drug[s] or alcohol under the policy.”
High schools in Lacey have performed random drug testing of students since December 2013 — though, in contrast to the middle school policy, that program is not voluntary. Each month, 30 students are selected randomly for drug screenings whether or not schools suspect them of actually using illicit substances.
“Students who test positive will lose the ability to participate in extra-curricular [sic] activities — sports, graduation ceremonies, school trips and proms — and parking privileges,” NJ Advance Media reported in 2013. “Along with notification of his or her parents, students who fail a test will have to meet with a substance abuse counselor. The student will also have to submit to four additional drug tests over the next 12 months. Failure of those tests could lead to a year’s worth of revoked privileges and activities, and a requirement to attend a drug rehabilitation.”
Alarmingly, some three dozen public school districts in New Jersey had implemented random drug testing for students as of three years ago.
Considering drug tests are notorious for producing false positives — or can flag a legally-prescribed drug as an illicit substance — policies like these should at least be subject to intensive scrutiny, if not outrightly banned. Further, it should be noted, because these are public schools, taxpayers foot the bill for the Nanny State’s intrusion into adolescents’ lives.
Rather than educating students about the effects of substances the government deems illegal — teaching them to respect drugs by comparing the perils of abuse to use in moderation — such programs inculcate the sort of taboo around substances that often lead teens to experiment in the first place.
While local media nearly unanimously praised the voluntary testing of seventh and eighth graders, the public had a more mixed response — some commenters on the NJ Advance Media article felt drug testing should be left to parents and schools should focus on the obvious task at hand: education.