The number of schools
testing students for drug use is rising as legal
barriers to testing have fallen, funding for it
has jumped and schools have begun to expand the
categories of students who can be screened.
Since the Supreme Court
ruled in 2002 that random testing of student
athletes and others in competitive
extracurricular activities did not violate the
students' privacy rights, the Bush
administration has made testing middle- and
high-school students a priority. In the 2005-06
school year, 373 public secondary schools got
federal money for testing, up from 79 schools
two years ago, U.S. Department of Education
records show. The government has not tracked the
rise of locally funded programs as closely, but
the White House estimates that an additional 225
schools have them.
President Bush has asked
Congress to increase grant money for testing by
45% next year, to $15 million.
The number of public
secondary schools with testing programs remains
a tiny percentage of the 28,000 such schools
nationwide. Many districts have been reluctant
to impose drug testing, fearing they could face
challenges in state courts. Several states'
constitutions include privacy rights that go
beyond what federal courts have granted, says
Graham Boyd, director of the ACLU's Drug Law
Reform Project in Santa Cruz, Calif.
However, the rise in
testing suggests that such programs are “taking
off,” says David Evans of the Drug-Free Schools
Coalition in New Jersey. Schools in that state
recently decided to randomly test athletes in
state tournaments for about 80 substances,
including stimulants and steroids. “This
happened with workplace drug testing,” Evans
says. “It started slowly and then grew.”
It's unclear how many
students are testing positive for drugs. The
results are secret, and schools are not required
to report them to the U.S. government. The
results also may not be given to police or used
to punish students other than to remove them
from extracurricular activities. Most schools
involved in testing screen for marijuana,
stimulants and opiates. More extensive tests,
such as for steroids, add to the cost. A typical
test costs $42, the Department of Education
A few school systems are
beginning to test the legal boundaries the
Supreme Court set for screening students. This
fall, nearly all 575 students in the Nettle
Creek school district's secondary school in
Hagerstown, Ind., will be subject to random
testing — not only athletes and students in
clubs, but also those who drive to campus and
anyone who wants to attend a school dance, prom
or class party.
The ACLU and groups such
as Students for a Sensible Drug Policy say there
is no proof that testing deters drug use. They
say testing could discourage kids from joining
sports teams or after-school clubs.
White House drug czar John
Walters says testing gives teens a reason to
reject peer pressure to use drugs. “It'll give a
kid a suit of armor,” he says.
Teens' drug use has dipped
recently, a University of Michigan study says.
However, 50% of 12th-graders surveyed last year
said they had tried an illicit drug.