As a senior at Allentown High School, I served as vice president of Life-Savers, a club dedicated to preventing student substance abuse. This year our Board of Education proposed a policy that would require students who wish to participate in extracurricular activities to submit to random urinalysis tests for illicit drug use. While I understand the desire to do more, I believe the policy will do more harm than good. My fellow students and I are organizing against this policy, which is ineffective, discounts student input, invades privacy and erodes trust.
In response to the proposal, I joined with my peers to form a group, Students Morally Against Random Testing (SMART), to mobilize opposition to student drug testing. Composed of more than 250 students, parents and alumni, we are an active voice at board meetings. We have asked the board to reject the drug testing proposal and submitted a petition with at least 450 signatures from high school students.
We presented the board with scientific research that found drug testing to be ineffective in reducing student drug use. A pair of University of Michigan studies, conducted in 2003, compared students in schools with and without a drug testing program and found virtually no difference in illegal drug use. Additionally, the American Academy of Pediatrics points to research indicating that student drug testing programs actually may lead adolescents to engage in more risky behaviors, such as Friday-night binge drinking, which will not show up on a drug test Monday morning.
The program can be counterproductive, as students who test positive are suspended from extracurricular activities, giving them more unsupervised time during the peak hours of student drug use. It might also prompt students to move to inhalants such as Freon or household cleaners, which are equally dangerous and will not show up on the screening.
The board should take seriously the privacy concerns of students. While the administration makes promises about confidentiality, students who are suspended from activities would be the target of rumors and gossip, a pervasive force at our school. To protect against false positives, the school requires parents and students to disclose prescriptions and medical information, raising anxiety about this information getting out. Privacy issues are not something to be dismissed lightly.
Fear is a final byproduct of the policy. Proponents label this a "deterrent," but in actuality it breaks down trust between administrators and students. The board seems ready for a program that embraces a mentality of "guilty until proven innocent," with every student a suspect. Creating an environment of trust, where students feel connected to school, is the most effective way to keep students out of trouble with drug use.
Chris Steffner, principal of Hackettstown High School, gave a presentation in favor of testing at a recent board meeting. This is the same woman who said, "Fear in the mind of a teenager is a wonderful thing." Not only is this statement blatantly offensive to any teenager, but it is seriously misguided. No student deserves to live in fear. Growing up afraid is not conducive to education.
Students across New Jersey will continue to fight against wasteful and ineffective random student drug testing. The Upper Freehold Regional school board is scheduled to vote on the policy on June 18. New Jersey educators should listen to the science, the experts and their students and "just say no" to random drug testing.
Brendan Benedict is a senior at Allentown High School and a founding member of Students Morally Against Random Testing (SMART).