The Shelby County School Board – the local political equivalent of The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight – has done it again.
This time, it’s in playing the role that it seems to relish most – Big Brother – as its members ignore the advice of Tennessee’s Attorney General, the state’s highest legal authority, so Shelby County can continue its drug tests of athletes, band members, cheerleaders, and others in extracurricular activities.
The fact that there’s no evidence that such testing accomplishes anything is of little interest to the board, which always seems willing to use students as pawns in their political gamesmanship.
Drugged Out County Students
Its single-minded attitude about testing as many students as it can is quite a revelation. Who knew that there are so many drugged-out students in all of these extracurricular activities in the county schools?
Although common sense would suggest that students who get involved in extracurricular activities have lower risk for drug use or that drug testing discourages student participation in these activities, more to the point, there is no reliable research that indicates that drug testing produces any discernible impact on drug use in adolescents.
The second revelation to us is that these county students are apparently so out of control that their parents welcome the board’s usurping of their responsibilities. Or at least that’s what Shelby County School Board chairman David Pickler indicates.
Maybe so, but it’s hard to believe that parents welcome suspicionless drug testing of their children when there’s no cause or behavior to suggest drug use. While we admit that we’re strict constructionists when it comes to civil liberties, we also think as parents, it’s our job to teach our children that their privacy matters and that the nibbling away of our basic freedoms shouldn’t be accepted quietly.
That’s one of the most interesting developments when these so-called conservatives gain power. Despite complaints about liberals injecting big government into the private lives of Americans, as soon as these moralistic conservatives take charge, they use government to intrude into the hearts of families in support of their own beliefs.
Time after time, particularly as they invoke bogey men like drug use, terrorism and crime, they claim that they are right. And they are – far right. And in decamping out in the fringes, they corrupt the kind of conservatism that has been such a strong influence in political thought in the history of the U.S.
Moralism As Method
The Shelby County School Board has shown an unerring tendency to advancing this kind of narrow agenda. In doing it, it’s tried to get religion taught as part of the county curriculum, it’s resegregated several county schools, it’s carved out attendance zones based on racial considerations and all the while, it’s espoused the beauty of a special school district whose motivations are largely political.
It really shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. After all, the county district, in its own mission statement, acknowledges that it’s focused on “high moral character.” It rarely seems to grasp the notion that this is the job of parents, because what may be moral character for one is not necessarily moral character for another.
But political differences aside, it’s worth listening to the recommendations of experts like the American Academy of Pediatrics, whose official position is in opposition to involuntary drug testing.
Lack Of Evidence
As these children’s experts say, there needs to be more research on the safety and efficacy of school-based testing, and there’s the need for attention to early rehabilitation rather than punitive measures in districts that are drug testing students. Acknowledging that proponents can point to no independent research that drug testing helps adolescents refuse drugs, the Academy of Pediatrics concludes that drug testing poses significant risks that outweigh any limited benefits.
For example, there’s the potential for damaging the school-child and school-family relationships, and “regardless of the reason it was performed, drug testing was not significantly associated with reduction in the use of marijuana or any illicit drug among students,” the Academy said.
In addition, the Academy questioned the reliability of the testing. For example, to ensure the validity of the specimen for testing, an adult at the school needs to watch a student urinate or the collector must use an expensive federally approved protocol for ensuring the chain of custody.
Flunking The Test
If the school is using hair or saliva testing, there are questions about their validity. Hair testing tells more about historical drug use than current use, and although saliva testing is more accurate, it doesn’t perform consistently across all drugs.
Then, according to the Academy, there is the problem of false positives, especially when screening for amphetamines or opiates, that can be caused by cold medicine and food. More to the point, it’s “fairly easy to defeat drug tests and most drug-involved youth are too familiar with ways to do so.”
Except for marijuana, information is limited and the drug use has to be within the previous 72 hours, and standard tests do not detect many of the favorite drugs of adolescents, such as alcohol, ecstacy and inhalants.
As the doctors point out, drug testing may inadvertently drive more students to use the most popular drug of choice in high schools – alcohol. Alcohol is associated with more adolescent deaths any illegal drug but isn’t included in most standard tests. Also, drug testing may drive adolescents to shift from drugs with low mortality rates – like marijuana – to those representing higher danger, such as inhalants.
But, worst of all, the entire environment for the testing is punitive, and the lack of adequate adolescent drug treatment and mental health treatment remains.
In the end, drug testing encourages alcohol use, foments the rebellious streak that is a biological part of adolescence and discourages wider participation in extracurricular activity.
And most of all, students see drug testing as a challenge rather than a deterrence.
Ultimately, drug testing in Shelby County Schools has little to do with fact, and all to do with hysteria and political opportunism.