hearts and minds

January 15, 2008

Good News to Start a New Year – from Afar and from Wisconsin

Filed under: War on Drugs — Hearts & Minds @ 1:49 pm

One lone man walked down a street in a beleaguered city wearing a yarmulke, in the waning hours of 2007, and was attacked by bigoted thugs with hatred gnawing at their hearts and minds. One other person (a stranger to the obviously Jewish man) observed the attack and physically intervened. The odds thus changed unexpectedly, and the intended victim of the hate crime attack was spared a serious beating and perhaps worse. The two, of course, then warmly met and introduced themselves to each other. The “good Samaritan” turned out to be a Muslim. And the two became fast friends. It’s a good news story to begin a good year in the good ol’ USA.

Here’s another good news local story, and a further harbinger of a hopeful 2008. Last year, the Cedarburg School Board and the Administration considered implementing mandatory random drug testing of students. (I wrote several columns in the News-Graphic about the issues involved in SRDT, which are archived in this blog in the “War on Drugs” category.)

The only peer-reviewed credible evidence available shows that random drug testing DOES NOT deter illicit use of drugs and alcohol. That evidence was produced by 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 that corroborated and extended them.

Important arguments against SRDT were clearly expressed by parents, students, and other concerned residents, in the months prior to the recently announced decision. They included the inconvenient truth that more dangerous (but undetectable, or less easily detected) drugs, as well as highly dangerous binge drinking, become the drugs chosen by those challenged (but not dissuaded) by invasive mandatory inspection regimes.

There are grave implications, for young people’s futures, of the unavoidable false positives in a random testing regime, and of the fact that principled refusal by an individual to participate in random drug testing is officially reported as a “positive” test result. And if we’ve learned anything, it’s that it is impossible to ensure the security of that commercially valuable personal data and collected genetic material.

Concern was expressed about the bad civics lesson it would teach students regarding Bill of Rights protection, and 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.)

Reservations were expressed about how such a random biological sampling regime might adversely impact the trust relationship between students and their teachers and counselors, and distract from the primary mission of the schools. Parents opposed, on principle, to mandatory random drug testing indicated that they would refuse to allow their child to submit to it, if she or he were called out. Or they would decline to participate in extracurricular activities, and thus those students would be denied the proven benefits.

Readers may recall my previous criticism of the School Board and Administration for appearing to proceed to a pre-conceived result. But I feel compelled to acknowledge that over the last eight months they appear to have responsibly explored the options before making this important decision to NOT impose mandatory random drug testing on the students of our community.

The Administration has, instead, initiated some very positive, proven effective steps to responsibly address the problem of substance abuse in ways that are appropriate for a public school system. Last spring, the Superintendent announced a comprehensive review of existing school district programs, both formal and informal, regarding substance abuse and at-risk students. If the review is coupled with an objective study of the true, long-term effectiveness of actions that have been tried elsewhere, and if it results in a well conceived, productive, policy and programs, the community can ask and expect no more.

On top of that, last fall, a full-time At-Risk Counselor position was created and filled by the district. Don’t expect headlines or miracles out of that. But the right person, well-motivated, aware, and caring, can do so much more in the schools than a platoon of nosy dogs and cases of urine sample bottles and “confidential” reports from private contractors.

Those are two very substantive steps that WILL bear fruit, but you probably won’t hear or read much that is “newsworthy” about their results, which will, of course, be neither shocking nor easy to document.

It can be difficult to take such a reasonable position, when a program like mandatory random drug testing offers the superficial appearance of being a tough, dramatic stand, blocking the school house door. Neither a draconian mandatory random drug testing program (on one hand), nor a careful, well-considered school policy, combined with full community support, and sensitive family involvement, coupled with sensible professional law enforcement and judicial decisions (on the other hand), can guarantee that a dramatically tragic incident will not occur in the future. The Cedarburg School District has taken the wise, politically courageous course. The rest of the community must now step up with caring, vigilance, nurturing, and support.

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

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1 Comment »

  1. Excellent piece Clyde. As well, I think we need to revisit the whole Drug War. By making drugs illegal we drive up profits, making it profitable for pushers to go into the schools with free drugs (to start), carrying the forbidden fruit, causing kids to do crime to pay for drugs, and on and on. Other countries have taken the profits out. Has it worked?

    We need to study the other countries’ efforts on decriminalizing and rehabilitating rather than incarcerating. I’m not yet supporting it but I want to know more….. See
    http://www.harrybrowne.org/hb2000/print/drugs.htm

    Comment by MoneyedPoliticians — January 16, 2008 @ 9:02 am | Reply


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