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POINT/COUNTER POINT: It isn't about punishment

At its most recent meeting, the USD 408 Board of Education discussed the district’s drug testing policy for students in extracurricular activities, and they may continue the discussion in upcoming meetings. This raises an important question: Can and should the school district even have a drug-testing program for students?

The question of “can” is a pretty easy one to answer. No less authority than the U.S. Supreme Court has said that schools do have the authority to require students in extracurricular activities submit to random drug tests as a condition of participation.

Addressing whether USD 408 or any school district should have a drug-testing program is trickier. Parents entrust their children to the school, and the school has a responsibility for the safety and well-being of students while they are in its care.

There is no doubt in my mind that abuse of alcohol, tobacco, and recreational and performance-enhancing drugs is detrimental to the well-being of these young people, and the dangers of drugs are magnified by the physical demands competition puts on their still-growing bodies.

During my freshman year of college, I had a friend who was rapidly on his way to flunking out. There are many reasons college students flunk out, but for him it was clearly an abuse of drugs and alcohol. He was a bright guy, and he was willing to put in hard work when he was sober, but his time sober gradually decreased as the year went on.

It reached a point where a group of his friends decided it was time to do something. We met with him and told him in no uncertain terms that if he didn’t clean up, get sober, and stay in school, he wasn’t going to be welcome in our lives anymore.

I will always be grateful our course of action worked. He got drug-free, stopped abusing alcohol, and re-focused on his schoolwork. He earned his degree on-schedule, and even took additional training and classes after graduating. Now he has a good-paying job doing something he likes, as well as a lovely fiancé.

I understand that this experience isn’t the same as a school-mandated drug test. If the district’s policy were only in place to punish students who get caught using drugs, I think it would be a lot harder to justify. But it does include provisions for students to get counseling about drug abuse, and to get back into the activities they enjoy.

Obviously, the policy is primarily intended to deter students from starting substance abuse, which is itself a worthy goal. But it also provides a way to help people who have made mistakes. It’s much easier to get clean and sober with encouragement from people who believe you can do it and that it is worth doing. I’ve seen it work.

There are well-reasoned arguments against drug testing in schools, but if random drug testing keeps just one student from putting themselves through the effects of drug or alcohol abuse, then it is worth any unpleasantness or expense involved.

— Adam Stewart

Last modified Sept. 8, 2011

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