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Blanket approach to drugs smothers common sense

Published: Friday, Oct. 25, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST

There is sometimes a thin line between when something is legally acceptable and when it is right. The two don’t always fit nicely hand in hand.

Such is the case with drug testing of students. The courts have upheld the legality of private schools performing random drug tests on students, for example, but does that mean schools should infuse themselves into the private lives of students?

Probably not.

One could understand if there were a clear cause for concern. Then it would be up to parents, students and administrators to come together and work to formulate a plan of action.

But a suburban Chicago Catholic school has started to randomly test students to detect if they have consumed alcohol in the past 90 days. By taking 60 strands of hair from each student being tested, administrators at St. Viator High School can have tests performed that can find remnants of alcohol up to three months after it was used.

These are not students showing up with slurred speech or staggered gait. These are not students who have been caught with marijuana in their lockers. These are teenagers selected based on some algorithm in a computer.

The school hopes to test 10 to 20 students a week.

St. Viator has tested students for other drugs for about six years. Officials said adding alcohol is simply a natural extension of that testing.

The problem with aggressive testing by the schools is that it creates an atmosphere and culture that many times runs counter to the desired results. Privacy issues aside – what is to keep someone from using those hair samples to determine if someone has an illness or is predisposed to disease, for example – does random testing do anything to deter drug use?

No, says Dan Romer, director of the Adolescent Communication Institute of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

Romer published a 2011 study that said drug tests had no influence on male high school students and only a slight impact on females.

What made a difference, his study found, was when students attended a school in which they felt respected and treated fairly.

Substance abuse is certainly a serious issue and one that takes a concerted effort to attack. Great strides have been made in the past few decades, but little of that advancement is a result of such testing that seems to presume guilt because of age.

Many parents of today’s school-age children have gone through the drug-culture decades and have seen the death and destruction they have wrought. They should impart those messages to their children.

They should also question why school officials have the right or responsibility to usurp the parenting role from them.

The (Alton) Telegraph

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