hearts and minds

March 9, 2007

War on Drugs Surges to Cedarburg High School

Filed under: Education,War on Drugs — Hearts & Minds @ 9:16 am

It was 40 years ago today, that Sgt. Pepper’s band began to play. Richard Nixon declared the War on Drugs 35 years ago. And it was eleven years ago that the Editors of the National Review publicly declared that “…it is our judgment that the War on Drugs has failed, that it is diverting intelligent energy away from how to deal with the problem of addiction, that it is wasting our resources, and that it is encouraging civil, judicial, and penal procedures associated with police states.”

The strategy has not changed despite the failure, and instead there have been periodic surges and escalations that have resulted in one and only one significant “accomplishment”. That accomplishment has not been to improve either the quality or quantity of successful addiction or substance abuse treatment or education programs. It has not been to reduce the availability or lethality or abuse of illicit drugs, or the violence associated directly with illegal drug traffic.

The signal unquestioned accomplishment of the War on Drugs has been that the United States of America, for the first time in history, now imprisons a higher percentage of its population than any other nation on earth. There were over SIX TIMES as many persons, per capita, in prison custody of the state of Wisconsin in 2003 as there were in 1970, the year before the War on Drugs was officially declared.

That escalation of police and judicial pressure has not been exerted evenly across all communities in America proportionate to the amount of illicit substance abuse that occurs there. And the communities in America on which the brunt of that escalation has fallen have been shattered by it.

Why the War on Drugs has been so unjust and has failed so persistently is an important question, but is not the subject of this essay, which is that the War on Drugs is surging in Ozaukee County. And where else, but in Cedarburg High School.

An initiative has begun to implement here the latest major front in the War on Drugs – mandatory random drug testing without cause on America’s youth. For their own good. Have the schools do it. That’s both brilliant and convenient! They’re all there in one place all day. A bunch of teachers and staff are right at hand to pull off the surprise operation at a moments notice. Just call a certain number out of class at random. (Be nice and discreet about it.) Arrange for teachers or a private contractor’s ‘associates’ to supervise the collection of urine, or take snips of hair. Do the necessary custody paperwork and proper material handling. Wait for the reports to be cooked up and sent back to Administration. Procure a chemical reading on what the devil the kids tested might have been inhaling or ingesting. (Along with a sample of their DNA.)

Defend yourself against the uncertainty of tomorrow’s news. Show people you’re tough and you’re doing something. And put the fear of uncertainty and surprise discovery in the kids, for a change, instead of in the adult authorities. Hire private contractors to do the dirty work, and lawyers to fend off challenges from malcontents. Simple.

This idea didn’t originate with the Cedarburg School District School Board or Administration. It’s part of a nationwide agenda, and it’s been done before, you bet. You might guess that it’s been challenged. In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court decided 5 to 4 that random drug testing without cause of high school students engaging in competitive extracurricular activities is OK according to their interpretation of federal law and the U.S. Constitution.

(This is the same Supreme Court that decided 5 to 4 that your home can be taken by power of eminent domain so a private developer can make an “improvement” to the property that a municipality figures will improve its tax base. And it’s the same Supreme Court that ruled 5 to 4 that the Florida Supreme Court did not have the right to order a recount of ballots in the disputed 2000 election that disenfranchised many thousands of eligible black voters by removing them without justification from voter registration lists and by closing the polls and dispersing citizens waiting in lines to vote.)

But hold on. Just because the Supreme Court narrowly decides that something can be done, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to do it. (Understand that the Supremes say it’s legal to impose this random school search and seizure on kids without cause, simply because they’re kids, and they don’t have the same rights as adults.)

Despite the eagerness of some to exploit this opening and impose mandatory random drug testing on kids, I doubt that anyone thinks it’s a particularly good idea, or particularly fair, to single out only students engaging in extra-curricular competitive activities for that dubious distinction. But, is the Cedarburg School District eager to provoke a federal test case challenging that ruling and trying to push the legal envelope so every school kid can be hauled in for random drug testing without cause? Probably not. The legal costs alone might just put a crimp in the budget, and necessitate a little tax increase. There’s a limit to what taxpayers want to pay just to have a drug test policy that is a fair and equal imposition on the privacy of all students and the proper jurisdiction of the family.

Speaking of budgets, has anyone done a rigorous evaluation of the cost effectiveness of mandatory random drug testing in schools with respect to desired goals and outcomes? The School Board first needs to explicitly state the goals for such an intrusion on privacy and human and civil rights so narrowly approved by the Supreme Court. The prime goal can only be to reduce the incidence of illicit drug use by students while not detracting from overall educational objectives.

Next, the School Board must investigate carefully whether the proposed program can be expected to accomplish that goal. With all the experience of other school districts around the nation, are there any peer reviewed, credible studies in existence that have investigated this question? The answer is yes.

The first large-scale national study on student drug testing, published in the April 1, 2003 Journal of School Health, based on data collected from 1998 thru 2001 from 76,000 students nationwide, found that student drug testing did not have an impact on illicit drug use among students, including athletes.

A more extensive follow-up study conducted with an enlarged sample of schools, and an increased focus on random testing, reinforced the stark conclusions of the previous study. The authors of the study, researchers at the Univ. of Michigan, funded in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, asked, “Does drug testing prevent or inhibit student drug use? Our data suggest that, as practiced in recent years in American secondary schools, it does not… Random testing applied to all students…and testing of athletes – did not produce encouraging results.”

These results are supported by numerous other surveys and studies that examine the effectiveness of various options for the prevention of student drug misuse, and are not contradicted by any studies of similar scale or credibility of which I am aware.

A helpful resource for parents, teachers, coaches, counselors, administrators, the School Board, and citizens, is http://www.drugtestingfails.org .

SSDP, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, is an organization with 115 college and high school chapters nationwide. http://www.ssdp.org .

This random school drug testing policy proposal that is now on the drawing boards for the long-term future of Cedarburg High School will be examined further in part 2 of this series.


  1. It is always nice to read some common sense.

    I think we are back to the Board of perfect people seeking to make the world perfect
    by the usual intimidation and short sightedness it has been so consistent with.

    Comment by name withheld — March 9, 2007 @ 9:50 am | Reply

  2. Thanks so much for mentioning Students for Sensible Drug Policy. You may be interested to learn about one of our other campaigns, trying to repeal the law that strips financial aid from students with drug convictions. Folks can send letters to legislators at http://www.SchoolsNotPrisons.com/aid/

    Comment by Tom — March 9, 2007 @ 1:25 pm | Reply

  3. I read it in the paper. Everything you write is so well thought-out.

    Comment by name withheld — March 9, 2007 @ 2:24 pm | Reply

  4. I think substance abuse thrives in a climate of despair.
    A sane drug policy would focus energy and resources toward nurturing children,
    creating a society they won’t want to escape.

    Comment by Howard — March 9, 2007 @ 2:33 pm | Reply

  5. Good presentation Clyde. Was anything edited out by the paper? Perhaps this new surge on the war on drugs is tied to the pResident’s mission to south america- jus say no!

    Comment by Charlie — March 9, 2007 @ 2:44 pm | Reply

  6. The author replies:

    Amen, Howard. We need people who think like that on the School Board and in the Administration. And if a specific program is needed to directly and immediately address a problem of substance abuse, it oughta be one that has been shown to work, is worth the money it will cost, and does not harm the educational mission of the schools.

    To charlie: I am not aware whether there is any national trend, or connection to international politics. I was referring merely to the proposed surge in little ol’ Cedarburg High School. It will take a much more sophisticated analyst than I to connect the dots from CHS to South America.

    The version printed in the newspaper was missing the lead paragraph, scratched the funding source for the research project I cited, omitted the sources of further info on the subject, and did not provide a way to contact me. The sense of the message was not seriously altered or compromised at all. However, both the effectiveness and usefulness were weakened. The submitted article was longer, and the editor understandably edited due to space considerations.

    There has been substantial interest in this essay since it was posted. However, this article does not appear when an inquiring person googles something like “Cedarburg High School random drug testing”. You’ll get a lot of “entries”, most only remotely related, if at all. But google won’t get you this article.

    Comment by Clyde — March 9, 2007 @ 6:17 pm | Reply

  7. Thanks for sharing…well written and interesting!

    Comment by Liz — March 9, 2007 @ 6:28 pm | Reply

  8. There’s still a chance to seek protection under the Wisconsin Constitution’s Privacy clause.

    There’ve been rulings in other areas that it may be interpreted more broadly.

    I’d like to see the State Supreme Court race turn on these issues….

    Comment by Ben — March 9, 2007 @ 10:58 pm | Reply

  9. Wow. What are kids learning in school these days about American values?
    What country is this? And what’s next?
    Random strip searches and drug testing of drivers getting on the freeway?

    Comment by Laurel — March 10, 2007 @ 12:30 am | Reply

  10. Another excellent piece! It was particularly important that you included reference to actual research on the effectiveness of random drug testing. There was a puff piece masquerading as reporting in the 3/6/07 News Graphic, which lauded the Pewaukee program. It cited the fact that 75% of Pewaukee parents believe that drug testing will act as a deterrent. It doesn’t matter what anyone believes! What matters is reliable research data; researchers have consistently found that random drug testing is not a deterrent. In fact, more students tested positive the second year of testing than did the first year.

    Comment by Michelle E. — March 10, 2007 @ 4:44 am | Reply

  11. Aren’t the parents of today the same ones who, when they themselves were teenagers, complained in the form of protests and walk-outs when dress codes were being written and attempting to be enforced? What has happened in the past 30-40 years to change. Why are we all so fearful?
    The “children” in the high school will be a nervous wreck, never knowing when they will be under the “eye of the man”.

    Comment by Michelle S. — March 11, 2007 @ 1:32 am | Reply

  12. Good article, Clyde.

    Comment by Christine — March 17, 2007 @ 7:40 pm | Reply

  13. Very well written article. You would think that since studies show this drug testing does not yield results, it would be abandoned, but no ….

    Your website is very impressive.

    Comment by Marliss — March 18, 2007 @ 5:00 pm | Reply

  14. I have no desire to read your comments on any issue and in any form.

    Comment by Daniel U — March 22, 2007 @ 4:10 pm | Reply

  15. From my experience, the highly important sense of self is created with a healthy, daily line of love between the student and the parent. Also, without a parental life of fulfillment for the child to see, life becomes more confusing for the young. Clyde, your writing is well thought out for the drug problem facing our country. I guess my thought is an examination of the parent-student relationship, after a positive drug test, might be part of the next step.

    Comment by Bruce B — April 6, 2007 @ 3:43 pm | Reply

  16. Good piece, as usual, Clyde. Keep hammering out the truth!

    Comment by Dan S — April 10, 2007 @ 7:27 am | Reply

  17. that’s why it will never wor. Nurit Hailey.

    Comment by Nurit Hailey — September 19, 2007 @ 11:50 am | Reply

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