Some Florida Schools Performing Random Drug Tests on Students
Two counties in Florida are introducing random drug testing in their high schools. Some might consider this a drastic measure, and some are already arguing that it is a misuse of power. So what is the rationale behind such a forceful stance?
In Escambia County, the school board unanimously voted last Thursday night to begin random drug testing at their middle school and high schools next year. The targets of the drug testing are those who participate in extracurricular activities, those who play sports, and those who drive to school. If a student tests positive, they have the right to an independent test before any decisions are made or action is taken. If, however, the student tests positive again, they would be removed from that sport or extracurricular, and the parents would have to work with the school to agree upon a plan to get their child the help they need.
Superintendent Malcolm Thomas explained that they hope that this measure will keep students from even trying drugs. “It’s that beginning point we’re trying to deter,” Thomas said. “If I can get you to say no from the beginning, and I want to say no because I want to be in the band, I want to be on the football team, and I’m not going to jeopardize my future; it gives them a way to save face in their peer group.”
What is the reaction from the community? Surprisingly, most of the parents support the random drug tests because they feel it might be a deterrent, and they want to know if their children are doing something that they shouldn’t be doing. But the ACLU is totally against this new school rule, claiming that the district is trying to take over the role of parenting. They claim that the move is financially irresponsible and “an expansive growth of government.”
Drug testing of student athletes was made legal by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1995, and in July 2009, the Palm Beach County School Board voted to approve the testing of student athletes in grades 9-12. The board stated the necessity of this decision because “some students who participate in interscholastic athletics and who are popular role models among their peers at school are also involved in the illegal use of drugs and alcohol.”
In order to avoid negative controversy, the board decided it would not do drug testing in all of their schools initially, so testing has been limited to three high schools in Palm Beach County who volunteered to participate and additionally limited testing to their student athletes who are on the baseball and softball teams. Testing is done by a company in Palm Springs at no cost to the district through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, and the guidelines allow for testing of any illegal substances.
School administrators claim that the testing has been fully supported by the parents who felt that it was a proactive strategy to prevent drug problems. And Bill Weed, the athletic director at Gardens Hills, one of the high schools that volunteered for random testing, said, “It gave the kids another reason to say no and not be tempted.”
So, how does it work? A computer picks five students randomly each month from the three schools to be tested, and head coaches can also have a student tested if they suspect they are using drugs. But students and parents must give consent before any testing is allowed. If a student tests positive the first time, they typically face a 10-day suspension from the team and must enter a treatment center and agree to follow-up testing. Violators are not reported to law enforcement, and there are no academic consequences. A second offense would result in being banned from the scholastic activity for a year, and students who refuse to submit to a drug test are not allowed to play high school sports for a year, at the conclusion of the season.
Although official results have not been published for privacy sake, this program is being credited with a 5 percent decline in students using alcohol and marijuana and lower use of commonly abused prescription drugs, cocaine, and other illegal substances, according to a report by an independent research firm.
So what do you think? Is this a program that might be effective in deterring drug and alcohol use in schools nationwide, or is it a case of schools overreaching their control? Seems to me that any program that might prove successful in decreasing the abuse of drugs and alcohol by our young people by offering more positive choices and providing firm intervention and rehabilitation is well worth it. I’m all for creative measures if they prove effective in preserving one of our nation’s most important resources; our young people.
What about you?