hearts and minds

November 27, 2007

Mandatory Random Drug Testing Rejected by Cedarburg School District

Filed under: Bill of Rights,Education,Media criticism,War on Drugs — Hearts & Minds @ 11:04 am

The page 1 November 15 Ozaukee News-Graphic article “Random drug testing fails to pass”, fails to represent the facts. Just because an article is presented as a “news report” does not make it factual or unbiased. And just because an article (such as this one) is presented on the editorial page, or in a blog, does not mean it is “merely opinion”. [Note: This article was NOT presented on the editorial page, after all. The editor decided not to publish my criticism of the Nov. 15 article regarding the School District decision.]

Paragraph one of the news report sets the tone. “Without hard evidence to show that randomly drug testing high school students deters substance abuse, (Cedarburg School Board) members … voted Tuesday to indefinitely postpone implementing the program at Cedarburg High School.” That puts a wimpy spin on the Board committee action, and ignores the reality that they DID have “hard evidence” that random drug testing DOES NOT deter illicit use of drugs and alcohol. That evidence was produced by comprehensive, peer-reviewed research, funded by the National Institute of Drug Abuse. There has been no comparable study that has contradicted those findings, or those of the extensive follow-up study.

A “study” was cited by the article (without reference) to oppose to the (unmentioned) NIDA funded, peer-reviewed, scientific research. That “study” surveyed some principals whose schools were already committed by their supervisors to a regime of mandatory random drug testing. The study asked the principals their opinion on whether they thought SRDT discouraged drug and alcohol use by students. There is no systematic evidence presented that those opinions reflect actual changes in incidence of illicit drug and alcohol use. The principals in this “study” were being asked, in effect, to express “their opinion” on whether the decision made by their own supervisors to impose mandatory random drug testing was a good one. Duh. What do you think they said?

The article states, “The school already provides educational programs and counselors…” But the article fails to mention the comprehensive review of school district programs, regarding substance abuse and at-risk students, initiated by the Cedarburg School District several months ago, and the full-time At-Risk Counselor position recently created and filled by the district.
That leaves the false impression that, in the face of “… an unusually high number of problems…” and the death of a student by heroin overdose in 2005, the school board has decided to take no action at all. The article implies that this is for no better reason than, “There’s just nothing definitive that you can point to that says this (mandatory random drug testing) is a good program to keep kids from using drugs and alcohol”. And the article implies the Board did nothing, despite “Nearly 70 percent of parents who responded (and) … supported or strongly supported randomly drug testing students.” (The biased, rushed, and unscientific presentation of the parent questionnaire was not discussed in the Nov. 15 article.)

Critically important arguments against mandatory random drug testing that were clearly expressed by parents, students, and residents, in the months prior to this announced decision, were not included in the article. Instead, cursory passing reference was made to non-specific allegations concerning “effectiveness” and “mixed research”. “But”, the article asserted, “one of the biggest concerns was who would be tested”.

Nothing was mentioned about the documented experience that much more dangerous, but less detectable drugs, as well as highly dangerous binge drinking, become the drugs of choice for experimentation by those challenged, and not dissuaded, by invasive mandatory inspection regimes. Nothing was said about the grave implications for young people’s future of the unavoidable false positives in a random testing regime. Nothing was said about the impossibility of ensuring the security of commercially valuable personal data and genetic material.

Nothing was said about the embarrassment and random stripping of privacy from young people who have a right to expect something different from their parents, teachers, and school. (This is especially true of randomly tested students who happen to receive a false positive report. The follow-up testing is even more invasive and humiliating.) Nothing was said about the adverse effect SRDT has on the trust relationship that needs to be built and maintained between students and their teachers and counselors. Nothing was said about how mandatory random drug testing discourages students and parents who object to it from participating in, and benefiting from positive extracurricular activities.

The concluding paragraphs of the article ignore the proactive (albeit perhaps belated) initiatives of the Superintendent, and present the (finally) wise decision by the school board members as waffling and indecisive. The report wrapped it up with “The results were simply too mixed for policy committee member(s)…” to approve random drug testing, plus a couple quotes about deciding “…based on a guess” and without having “… looked at every other option out there first.”

Unfortunately, the article portrayed the decision by the Cedarburg School District to reject mandatory random drug testing as impelled by weak indecisiveness, irresponsibility, and unresponsiveness to parental concern. Readers may recall my previous criticism of the School Board and Administration for appearing to proceed to a pre-conceived result. But I am compelled to acknowledge that they clearly have explored the options before making this important decision. And I take exception to the recent front-page article that gave the Board no credit, when they made a responsible, but politically difficult decision.

It can be difficult to take such a wise position, when a program like mandatory random drug testing offers the superficial appearance of being a simple, get-tough solution. The current position of the Administration, and the decision by the Policy Committee, is wise, politically courageous, and not easy. Neither a draconian mandatory random drug testing program, nor a careful, well-considered school policy, combined with full community support, and sensitive family involvement, can guarantee that a dramatically tragic incident will not occur in the future. The Cedarburg School District has taken the right course. The rest of the community must now step up with caring. Start by looking at the suggestions of the Drug Policy Alliance and those of the Law Enforcement Professionals Against Prohibition.

We can all be glad that the kids (and the teachers and the community) aren’t going to have to go through that ineffective, counter-productive regime of random suspicion and invasive without-cause inspection by school officials, employees, and unnamed private contractors. And we can all pray and work constructively together to try and see that another tragedy does not occur.


  1. School Board Members anguish over decisions like this one. The media has a responsibility to tell the story accurately, as a matter of respect.

    Thank you for respecting the truth.

    Comment by Howard H — November 28, 2007 @ 11:18 am | Reply

  2. Should I write the editor and tell him of my disappointment that (this) article was not published?

    Comment by Dorothy B — December 1, 2007 @ 5:14 pm | Reply

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