Ohio High School Plans to Drug-Test All Students at Least Once a Year

Derrick Bryson Taylor

In an effort to discourage drug use and vaping, a Catholic high school in Ohio has announced plans to begin testing its students for drugs and nicotine, joining what education professionals are calling a growing trend.

Administrators at Stephen T. Badin High School in Hamilton, Ohio, said in a letter to parents this week that the drug-testing program, which they said had been shaped over the course of two years with help from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, would go into effect in January.

Students will be tested at least once a year for illicit drugs, alcohol, nicotine and other banned substances, the school said in the letter. There is no maximum number of times a student may be tested.

“The impact of drug use on young students and their families is staggering and our community is not immune to this issue,” the letter said, adding that testing would encourage students not to do drugs.

Students are required to consent to the testing as a condition of their enrollment at the school, and potential consequences for violating the drug policy include suspension and expulsion, the letter said. Under the new guidelines, a first positive drug test alone would not necessarily result in disciplinary action, provided there are no other violations of the policy, like rules against intoxication during school hours or possession of drugs on campus. But a comprehensive intervention plan would be put into place after a second positive test, and expulsion might be recommended after a third.

Badin High School, which is about 25 miles north of Cincinnati and has a coeducational enrollment of 622 students, did not respond to a request for comment this past week, but a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati said in a statement that decisions about drug-testing policies were made at the local level.

“The individual school administration and board decide if drug testing is a policy they want to enact,” the spokeswoman, Jennifer Schack, said on Thursday.

Private schools have control over their enrollments, David Bloomfield, an education law professor at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, said in an interview. “The school seems largely within its rights to come up with this policy,” he said.

But there may be potential legal concerns if the school is found to disproportionately test one group of students over another, he noted, possibly bringing about “arbitrary enforcement and harassment.”

“The well-known public school standard for a search is reasonable suspicion; here it’s just suspicion,” Bloomfield said. “That could be a whim or a hunch, without any real tangible basis.”

Marginalized students may be affected most by the policy, he said, adding, “That could be a legal problem when it’s discriminatory enforcement.”

The debate about whether schools can test their pupils for drugs dates back to before 2002, the year the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the random drug testing of public school students. The 5-4 decision expanded an earlier ruling that endorsed drug testing for student athletes.

The case made national headlines after an Oklahoma school district required students who engaged in “competitive” extracurricular activities — such as the future homemakers’ club, cheerleading and choir — to undergo random drug testing. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in his opinion that the district’s drug-testing program was “entirely reasonable” because of the “nationwide epidemic of drug use” among school-age children.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study from 2016 said more than 37% of school districts had adopted a drug-testing policy. There seems to be an increase in similar programs across the country, Cindy Huang, assistant professor of counseling psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University, said in an interview.

The research to prove if drug testing is beneficial to students is mixed, according to Huang. “There’s really no clear indication that implementing mandatory drug testing will directly lead to better and reduced substance abuse rates,” she said.

Parents across the country should not be concerned if their school begins a drug-testing program if it is “properly planned and then implemented,” Huang said. In such cases, she said, it has the potential to work as prevention.

She added that parents should be asking detailed questions about what happens if a child tests positive, whether testing will truly be conducted at random and in such a way that does not target specific children, and whether there will be programs in addition to drug testing that will promote awareness of substance use.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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