Leinwand, USA Today,
July 12, 2006
Principal Chris Steffner
High school principal Chris
Steffner says she's seen many efforts to keep
teens from using drugs: education programs, "Just
Say No" campaigns, scary speeches from people who
were caught driving drunk.
those things have any lasting impact," she says.
"Peer pressure is so strong."
why, Steffner says, she's a cheerleader for random
drug testing of students. She tells other principals
about the testing program she helped oversee for the
past two years at Hackettstown High School, a
700-student campus in northern New Jersey.
program's first year, 10% of Hackettstown's students
were tested randomly from a pool of students who
took part in after-school activities or who drove to
school. One student tested positive, she says. Last
year, 25% of the students were screened. No one
results show testing deters teen drug use, Steffner
says: "It works in the workplace and it works in the
military. Why wouldn't it work in a school?"
At a time
when drug testing is expanding in schools, precisely
how well it works in reducing drug use among middle
and high school students is a much-debated topic.
Surveys by the University of Michigan indicate that
teens' use of most drugs is stable or down slightly
this year. Analysts are trying to find out whether
testing might lower the numbers further.
More schools test for drugs
of schools screening students for street drugs such
as cocaine and marijuana — and for performance
enhancers such as steroids — has jumped since the
U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that testing
athletes and those involved in competitive
extracurricular activities did not violate their
only about 2% of the nation's 28,000 middle and high
schools have testing policies. Meanwhile, drug
education programs are everywhere, and many other
factors — from teens' whims to the economy — have
been cited as affecting drug use rates.
research has been done on testing's impact on
student drug use because it's difficult and
expensive to study, says Lloyd Johnston of the
Monitoring the Future study at the University of
Michigan, which surveys 50,000 students a year. And
yet, concern about student drug use — including
recent increases in the use of prescription drugs
and steroids — has led hundreds of systems to
Supreme Court said a school system's duty to provide
a safe, drug-free environment outweighs students'
expectations of privacy. Now, Hackettstown and a few
other systems — such as the one in Hagerstown, Ind.
— are using the court's standard to justify
expanding random testing beyond students who are in
sports or other competitive after-school activities.
It's unclear whether such plans will draw new legal
administration has been a key player in expanding
student drug testing. The White House has asked
Congress to boost federal grants for testing
programs by 45% next year, to $15 million.
administration is pushing this like never before,"
says Tom Angell, campaign director for Students for
Sensible Drug Policy in Washington, D.C., which
opposes drug testing. Angell, who says he often
hears from parents and students who oppose testing,
estimates one school board a week adopts a testing
many systems have resisted testing because of its
cost and questions about its necessity. Privacy laws
in several states also pose legal hurdles, despite
the Supreme Court's stance on testing.
"elevated it to a level of prominence, so some
schools are going to start doing it," says Graham
Boyd of the ACLU's Drug Law Reform Project. But
"most school administrators want programs that work
and don't want to needlessly invade students'
argues that testing destroys trust between students
and schools and discourages teens from joining
after-school activities. The group also questions
testing's effectiveness. Research is inconclusive.
In a 2003
study, Johnston and a colleague suggested drug usage
rates at schools with no testing were about the same
as those of schools that had testing. In 2005, a
Ball State University survey found declines in drug
use at 58% of 54 Indiana high schools that had
reports have inspired a few systems to expand drug
testing to virtually all students.
Creek school district in Hagerstown, Ind., will
launch a program this fall involving most secondary
school students: not just athletes and club members,
but also those who drive to school or want to attend
school dances. Superintendent Joe Backmeyer says the
goal is to protect students' privacy and minimize
embarrassment. Students will be chosen randomly by
number and a saliva sample will be taken, instead of
the more common urine testing. Counseling will be
provided for those testing positive.