It's a positive thing that the El Dorado school district is concerned about drug and alcohol abuse among its students, but a new random testing policy may not be the proper way to address the problem.
The El Dorado district has adopted a new policy that requires all students from seventh grade through high school who participate in an extracurricular activity to be subject to random urinalysis drug testing. The district also has adopted a very broad definition of extracurricular activities that includes everything from participating in athletics to parking in the school parking lot.
Parents of students involved in any of these activities must sign a form allowing the testing. Students will be selected randomly for the test but will be tested at least once a year. The district justified the new policy by pointing to U.S. Supreme Court cases that allowed mandatory testing for school athletes and random testing for students involved in other activities, but the testing plan has drawn fire from both students and parents in El Dorado.
The policy covers not only students representing the district on debate or athletic teams or those singing in a school choir, but also includes students who attend a school dance or simply are part of the audience for a school play. Any student who fails a test will be barred from extracurricular activities for two weeks and face additional testing or treatment.
Some may argue that students who have nothing to hide shouldn't be opposed to the random testing, but not only does the policy pose a potential privacy problem, it projects a presumption of guilt on students who have done nothing wrong.
It's also unlikely that the policy will have much impact on students who actually have drug or alcohol problems. Those students will simply opt out of all school activities and park their cars off school property. They will be driven further underground to avoid detection by the random testing.
School officials already have the authority to intervene if they see some evidence that a student has a drug or alcohol problem. Working with parents to see that those students get the help they need is a proper role for the schools to fill. In fact, despite the fact that our society has transferred many responsibilities to its public schools, parents should be the ones to take the lead on resolving problems such as substance abuse by their child.
In many ways, a random testing program is easier than going through the process of identifying and working with individual students who have drug and alcohol problems. Perhaps that is why the El Dorado district resorted to such an inclusive policy. It's easy to see, however, why the policy is drawing a negative reaction from students and parents.
It is unfortunate illegal drug and alcohol use has become so prevalent among a younger and younger segment of our society. Like it or not, testing is likely to become a more common practice at our junior high and high schools as well as post-high school academic institutions.