hearts and minds

April 3, 2007

Cedarburg School District May Test for Drugs Without Cause

Filed under: Education,War on Drugs — Hearts & Minds @ 6:05 am

You wanna do dope? Why do you think they call it that? – Clarence Lee

The Cedarburg, Wisconsin School Board is considering testing Cedarburg High School students for drug use by requiring random, mandatory, urine sampling. Is this a good idea? That depends on the answers to three questions. (And you might also want to check out Part 1 of this series.)

First, is this testing effective in curtailing drug use? That question has been the subject of the largest, most rigorous studies to date, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, one of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). And you may be surprised to learn that the 2003 study, (Relationship Between Student Illicit Drug Use and School Drug-Testing Policies) found that random drug testing neither prevents nor inhibits student drug use. A follow-up (Drug Testing in Schools: Policies, Practices and the Association with Student Drug Use) extended the scope and size of the study, and focused on random testing and student athletes. The results were reinforced. Random drug testing was NOT shown to be effective at curtailing student drug use.

Second; (if you prefer to assume these studies are wrong), how does random drug testing of students compare with methods that do reduce drug abuse and addiction?

Student drug testing regimes seek only to identify a small percentage of possible users, and to intimidate students in the tested population from engaging in behavior they think will be detected if they are tested. They make not even a pretense of providing treatment or education. A Congressional study found that the amortized cost of each positive in government random testing was $77,000, because of the very low rate of positives. The best way to discover problematic drug use does NOT involve sophisticated technology or costly private contractors. The most effective way to identify substance abusers is for parents and family, teachers, coaches, and counselors, people who care, to learn to recognize the common symptoms.

The proposed random drug testing of students can identify no more than a very small percentage of people who have recently used a detectable illicit substance, and it does nothing to educate, treat, or recover. The total cost of that hit-and-miss testing alone, often exceeds the total that would be spent by the district on successful, comprehensive drug programs that provide education, prevention, and counseling, as well as provide much more effective identification of students at risk.

Third, (if, despite what can be learned by studying the first two questions, random drug testing is still contemplated) can adverse unintended side effects be expected? What are the effects on the primary educational mission of the school; on trust and relationships between students and staff; on respect for long-accepted Constitutional rights and personal privacy; and on known effective drug programs; when surprise urine sampling, without probable cause, is imposed on students at random?

Good and motivated teachers, coaches, counselors,and parents strive to nurture and cultivate a relationship of mutual trust and respect with students. A new and different role is imposed on school staff by a policy of random drug testing in the school. Implementing and facilitating such a regime is arbitrary, invasive, and demeaning to everyone. And students, like anyone, can be expected to resent and react to such blanket suspicion by those in authority. This new regime and role adversely affects the school educational mission.

Ironically, the random drug test regime approved by the U.S. Supreme Court, and proposed for the War on Drugs in Cedarburg High School requires only students engaged in extra-curricular competitive activities to urinate on demand. It makes one class of students subject to this invasive testing, just because of their interest or ability to participate in these activities, while others are not. These activities in themselves are a major component of a drug abuse prevention program. Why discourage such participation by imposing such an embarrassing, privacy invading regime? Students engaged in them are less likely to have a substance abuse problem than the general population. Why insult and impose exclusively on these students?

A consortium of national organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Public Health Association, the National Education Association, the
National Association of Social Workers, and the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, submitted a joint Amici Curiae Brief to the U.S. Supreme Court (in 536 U.S. 822 [2002], decided by a 5 to 4 verdict). These five professional organizations clearly and unanimously stated, “Our experience – and a broad body of relevant research – convinces us that a policy [of random student drug testing] cannot work in the way it is hoped to, and will, for many adolescents, interfere with more sound prevention and treatment processes.”

Because marijuana is the most detectable drug, for the longest time after use, students may experiment instead with binge drinking, meth-amphetamines, Ecstasy, or inhalants, which are less detectable and exit the body quickly – and are more dangerous. Even heroin and cocaine are less detectable, for a shorter time, than marijuana. (Does ANYONE today seriously believe that marijuana is anywhere near as dangerous as ANY other drug of choice available today – including alcohol or tobacco?)

There are all kinds of products and techniques (sold, revealed, or improvised, in books or on the Internet or by rumor) to outsmart a drug test. Some of them are effective. Some are deadly.

False positives from drug testing result from prescription medicines, over-the-counter decongestants, codeine, and bakery goods made with poppy seeds. Reporting of drug test results, especially the not uncommon false positives, between the private testing and sample collecting service, school faculty, and administrators, and the inevitable “leaks” and rumors that spread among other students, result in breach of confidentiality (such as supposedly confidential lists of student’s prescription drugs), slander to an individual’s reputation, violation of privacy, denial of opportunities, and costly litigation.

Much personal information unrelated to drug use can be acquired from analysis of urine, hair, or saliva samples. Who will be ultimately responsible to those tested, that the private contractors and the school district, or people who gain access to their records, will never invade, compromise, or exploit that sensitive medical information? How can we be sure that future employability or insurance eligibility will never be harmed? Will you trust children’s futures to predictable assurances from today’s crop of Administrators, Board members, and private contractors?

Surprise mass or random searches, and random drug testing without cause, teach students that they are assumed guilty until they can prove, with their own body fluid, or according to a police dog’s nose, or by submitting to a search, that they are innocent. The new 21st Century Wars on (You-Name-It) reveal a new truncated definition of our crumbling human and civil rights, as Americans once knew them.

There will be students who will thoughtfully oppose such invasion of privacy. Their participation in valuable activities may be discouraged or prohibited due to their principled opposition to search and seizure without probable cause, and to being treated as guilty until proven innocent. If we are unable to stop this random policy before it gets started, we should be proud of and grateful for the yet-to-be-displayed courage of these students. If we are able to stop it now, we can be proud of ourselves, and of a school system that teaches our soon-to-be-adult students, by example, those basic American values exemplified by our Constitutional Bill of Rights.

Members of the School Board, the Administration, and local news reporters keep harping about how the Pewaukee Board glowingly endorses the program of random drug testing they recently instituted. (Is anyone surprised that a school board would be enthusiastic about and defensive of their own recently established policy?) But we, and our School Board, better consider the reasons that the Oconomowoc and Sheboygan School Boards considered and REJECTED a similar policy. And they ought to be aware, and share with the community the simple fact that, and the reasons why, the Janesville School Board has ABANDONED their own existing random drug testing policy.

Cedarburg should, at the very least, look at this simple 2 page brochure, with information very specific to Wisconsin, that was provided last year to the Student Drug Testing Summit here.

Students in all schools need to be provided comprehensive, science-based, no-nonsense information about intoxicants. They need to receive help when needed.

Use your internet browser to find more information about the “War on Drugs” or “student random drug testing”. Helpful resources for parents, students, teachers, coaches, counselors, administrators, the School Board, and the entire community, are www.drugsense.org,
the Drug Policy Alliance http://www.drugpolicy.org and www.drugtestingfails.org, and
Students for Sensible Drug Policy http://www.ssdp.org, with 115 college and high school chapters.

There is an excellent booklet presented by the Drug Policy Alliance and the ACLU that comprehensively illuminates these issues. Here is what two renowned experts say about it:

“While student drug testing may seem a panacea, the reasoned ideas contained in this booklet amply demonstrate its pitfalls. As an educator, I would urge school decision makers to read ‘Making Sense of Student Drug Testing: Why Educators are Saying No’ and tread carefully and skeptically before embarking on this misguided policy.
Rodney Skager, PhD, Professor Emeritus, Graduate School of Education, UCLA.

“This is a clear, lucid analysis of random drug testing. It makes a strong case that random drug testing is likely to do more harm than good. It deserves wide distribution to parents, teachers, students, and social workers.”
Milton Friedman, Nobel Prize in Economics, late Senior Research Fellow, Hoover Institution.


  1. Once again, Clyde, your thoughtful approach to a hot-button issue is right on. Thanks for doing all the research that went into this article. You write so clearly. How can anyone disagree with your position? While talking with neighbors, this issue came up in discussion. Although, at the time, I did not respond as eloquently and thoroughly as you, I will be able to do so in the future.


    Comment by Dorothy B — March 22, 2007 @ 5:44 pm | Reply

  2. Great article Clyde. Seems like just another way to get the younger generation use to having fewer liberties. These types of things always seem to happen first with groups that cannot defend themselves and then expand on to more and more ‘groups’

    Comment by Jessica B — March 23, 2007 @ 9:17 am | Reply

  3. It’s a good article, Clyde, but I’m still not convinced. You accurately write that financial costs for testing are high and the the reliability is low, but should we use those criteria for deciding our policy. U.S. auto industry has argued for years that mandated fuel economy standards are costly, and they were right, but does that mean that the standards shouldn’t be inacted? There are many who want to put a tax on gasoline to reduce its consumption. That too would be costly, and so should that not be done? I would argue that reliability and costs in all three cases are market issues-not moral or value issues. If you mandate, the market will provide better quality and lower costs. Whether we drug test or not must be decided on the basis of a different criteria. I see it more as an issue of whether a school, or for that matter, a society, has a right to ask of those who receive benefits to abide by standards of behavior that enhance the civility of the public realm. And if you don’t, the society will hammer you rather than spend more money and resources on you. Ultimately, perhaps this is an issue of economics, but of global economics, not regional or national .

    Comment by Les S — March 24, 2007 @ 10:45 am | Reply

  4. I read the article and thought it was really well-written and brought up points that I hadn’t even thought about. I passed it on to … the former … Drug and Alcohol director, so we’ll see what she thinks~!

    Comment by Deb M — March 25, 2007 @ 3:46 pm | Reply

  5. There are many schools in Wisconsin which have rejected or abandoned student drug testing. Please see a handout I created for the Student Drug Testing Summit in WI last year:

    http://www.drugpolicy.org/docUploads/SDTWisconsinHandout.pdf .

    I can put you in touch with a school board member from the Janesville School District that abandoned their drug-testing program. Perhaps his perspective would inform your board and your community.
    Please send me your “Hearts and Minds” web log link.

    Comment by Jennifer K — March 26, 2007 @ 7:19 pm | Reply

  6. Thank you for the information! Your comments are much appreciated!

    Comment by Dr. K. J. — March 30, 2007 @ 9:08 pm | Reply

  7. Did it sound to you as though the school board is backing away from random drug testing? It did to me, and I also got this email … which also make me think so.

    Anyway, I think your articles made a difference here

    Comment by Michelle E — March 30, 2007 @ 9:45 pm | Reply

  8. Random drug testing violates basic Constitutional Rights. Simple as that!!!

    Comment by Jan S — April 6, 2007 @ 10:25 am | Reply

  9. I find it interesting that the Cedarburg School District is considering funding random drug testing when it gave up funding a social work position years ago because it couldn’t see the worth in keeping that. A good social worker (and they used to have an awesome one until she retired and was not replaced) can make a tremendous difference in helping students with drug issues, reaching students with suspected issues and working with families and agencies to actually make a difference.

    I think they ought to look at ways to spend money that make a real difference, not just devices that make it appear they are tough on drugs. Schools, working with real human kids, make differences through human interaction, not tests and materials.

    Comment by Marjie T — April 7, 2007 @ 2:51 pm | Reply

  10. How do you spell knee-jerk? It is spelled ‘c-e-d-a-r-b-u-r-g s-c-h-o-o-l b-o-a-r-d’!!!

    Just like after Columbine. Take the big guy teachers out of the classroom and post them at the entrances to ‘pat’ down students as they enter and hire subs to take that big guy teacher’s classes. Another knee-jerk reaction to make the school board look good to the naive and stupid.

    Drug tests are expensive, are not accurate and that is why schools all over the nation are dropping the policy.

    At one time the Cedarburg School Board wanted to implement merit pay even though merit pay has never worked in any community in the entire United States other than in Ladue Missouri where they were already paying their teachers $5000 more a year than in neighboring districts. More knee-jerk to make an impression.

    Comment by Michael T — April 29, 2007 @ 11:35 am | Reply

  11. From Guantanomo to the “Patriot Act” to Cedarburg Schools, this is an outrageous trend. Our children are our future. We will bequeath to them the amazing system of government our forefathers built and maintained for us. How can we allow our schools to turn 180 degrees on basic American rights that we be free of unreasonable search and seizure and which regards all citizens as innocent until proven guilty? If we allow our children to grow up being treated by the establishment as criminals, subject to surprise bodily searches without cause, our country is surely in decline.

    As the parent of a child who is just one year away from entering the Cedarburg public schools, I will watch the reactions to this issue carefully, tell other Cedarburg parents I know, and communicate with school board members, while researching private school options in the area. Thank you, Clyde, for your diligence and your time in exposing this issue.

    Comment by Laurel K — May 20, 2007 @ 5:38 pm | Reply

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