There is a movement in schools to test students for drugs. This appears in various forms across the country. Some schools require this for all extra after-class activities. Others educational institutions are doing random testing of all students.

The obvious reason is to identify those students who are using drugs. Further, the drug testing allows the students a reason to say “no” to any chemical experimentation. It is a reason that peers can understand. Few can argue with the positive intent of trying to safeguard children.

Nevertheless, the drug testing is a subtle paradigm shift in many ways. It is giving the schools the added responsibility of policing for drug use. Along with the safety and security aspects of the drug testing, there is the issue of privacy to consider. Communities must decide how much of the educational budget to spend on drug testing and protecting those data. Since educational budgets are limited, the next decision is what aspects of the school educational mandate to trim or to delay.

The drug testing also speaks to the issue of parenting. In effect, it is saying that parents are not doing an adequate job of preventing drug use. It then becomes the purview of the educational system. Some parents are raising objections to this. Other parents are welcoming any assistance that the schools can provide. Decisions by school districts across the country are saying that drug testing will become the norm, if it isn’t already.

The long term, sociological influence of such drug testing programs may not surface for years. This present generation of school children will become used to being monitored closely and assessed. From surveillance cameras, drug testing, GPS tracking of cell phones, there are a myriad of ways in which technological advancements are reshaping the notion of privacy. Further, it is reshaping the notion of civil liberties. For this present generation of school children, the concept of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ may become an antiquated notion. The working standard will be ‘here is evidence of my innocence’. Unless empirical data are presented, everyone is suspect.

Catherine Forsythe
Director of Operations