Drug Warriors invade the classroom

As well as being ineffective, drug testing school children is a draconian invasion of privacy, writes CHRIS FOWLIE

A recent conference held by the School Trustees Association has raised the ugly spectre
of drug testing extending even into primary schools.

Trustees and principals claimed that children as young as 5 had been caught taking drugs including cannabis to school, and some – including Otamatea High School principal Haydn Hutching – said testing the entire school population was the answer.

Some principals even said they would not seek the permission of – or even inform – parents before testing their children, claiming it was purely an educational or disciplinary matter.

Several schools are even sending drug-sniffing dogs on patrol in the classrooms. Palmerston North Boys’ High School conducts up to seven sniffer-dog searches a year, at a cost of $1500 each time. They receive no additional funding for this, so the money is taken from somewhere else – perhaps education resources or teacher’s wages.

The Ministry of Education doesn’t endorse drug searches in schools, spokesman Vince Cholewa told the Manawatu Evening Standard. He advises schools to seek legal advice if they do decide on searches. Mr Cholewa said only police have a right to search a school if drugs are suspected.

“Teachers aren’t above the law,” he said.

Student drug testing is not without its opponents, who insist research does not show drug testing policies make any difference to whether young people use drugs. A 2003 study sponsored by the US National Institute on Drug Abuse that included 94,000 students in 900 American schools, half with a drug testing policy and half without, found there was no difference in illegal drug use among students.

Drug tests violate students’ privacy, and could wrongly turn students into suspects if they refuse. As the programs expand, children may find their ability to object to the tests eroded. Tests could open the door to lawsuits. Most tests are imprecise and can show “false positives” as well as “false negatives”.

Only the GCMS test is truly accurate, but at a cost of at least $100 per test this is unlikely to be used by many schools, who will likely use the cheaper and less accurate screening cards (similar to a home pregnancy test).

Advocates of testing do not appear to have considered the consequences of violating the privacy of a child as young as 5 by forcing them to pee into a cup. At the very least, it could raise awareness of drugs in a child who until then had never thought about them.

What happens after a positive result is another concern. Many schools simply expel the student, which creates additional problems with alienation, delinquency and crime. Then again, these outcomes must by now be familiar to all prohibitionists.

(NORML News Winter/Spring 2006)

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