What can a high school principal do to keep the
public relations train chugging toward disaster when he’s already
adopted the ethically questionable policy of mandatory drug testing
for an entire student body? By censoring a student who calls
instead for a policy of greater accountability and personal
responsibility, of course. That’s what the administrators of St.
Ignatius High School (SIHS) in Cleveland, Ohio did this week.
As a recap, SIHS and two other Catholic schools recently teamed
up with Psychemedics Corporation to drug test all their
students–about 1,450 at SIHS alone and nearly 3,000 total. The
contradictory statements about whether or not there’s actually
a drug problem, but assured that the policy was for student safety.
It’s pure coincidence, administrators
insisted when asked by alt-weekly Cleveland Scene,
that Psychemedics CEO Raymond Kubacki is part of SIHS’s old boys’
network, is the brother of one of the other school’s principals,
and has explicitly stated that high schools are his new target
since workplace drug testing is waning. Reason covered
more details on the situation
Dissenting students were disenfranchised by Cleveland’s only
major paper, the Plain Dealer, which exclusively quoted to
pupils who were
hand-picked by administrators and just happened to think drug
testing is cool.
This left a bad taste in the mouth of SIHS senior Benjamin
Seeley, who wrote a critical article intended for his school paper.
The school should not assume responsibility for student health;
that is the place of parents. The initiative shows signs of noble
intent, but it wasn’t necessary in the first place. If the school
is concerned about drugs, and feels oversight is the only solution,
it should recommend parents themselves administer the tests….
A study by the University of Pennsylvania Annenberg Public
Policy Center found that instituting mandatory random drug tests in
high schools had no impact on student drug use for males… and
that the testing worked only to further the divide between
administration and student.
Seeley also suggested that kids will stop using harmless drugs
like marijuana and in favor of alcohol, since it won’t show up on
the test. He concluded by calling upon his classmates to “demand
that the school offer worthy explanations to you for their choice
of drug-tester, and a response to why substantive pieces of
evidence against drug testing were ultimately tossed out” and that
they should “refuse to be made pawns of.”
Proving that it could alienate itself from the students in other
ways, the SIHS administration reportedly blocked the publication of
Seeley’s article for being “seditious.” So, Scene
published it instead.
Seeley’s compatriots are in a difficult situation. They do have
the option of leaving their private institution. The Supreme Court
affirmed Fourth Amendment rights and limits drug testing in
public schools, but given the caliber of Cleveland’s public
education it’s highly unlikely any SIHS student will make that
move. And, having a bad alternative doesn’t negate the fact that
their privacy is still being curtailed and their once-presumed
innocence replaced by Psychemedics’ lab results.
It’s a shame to see a crop of thousands of teenagers needlessly
roped into the war on drugs. If nothing else, the experience will
hopefully teach them just how ineffective, unsettlingly invasive,
and common sense-defying these kinds of policies and their
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