When students are in school, they need to follow certain rules. This goes for students of all ages, whether they are in primary school, middle school, high school or college. Rules can be anything from following a dress code, to walking in a line in the hallway to more strict matters, such as zero tolerance policies against alcohol and drug use.

Schools strive to make their buildings a safe space for all students, and some go to what would be considered extreme measures to do so. One of these measures is drug testing students. There are many arguments for and against drug testing in schools, but most of all, the fact that it infringes on a student's right to receive an education should be enough of an argument to end it altogether.

Are Schools Allowed to Drug Test Students?

There are some circumstances in which schools are allowed to drug test students, but aside from these circumstances, it would be considered unconstitutional for schools to do so. One situation in which schools can legally drug test students is if they are student athletes. Schools are legally allowed to randomly drug test student athletes based on a 1995 Supreme Court ruling on the Vernonia School District vs. Acton case.

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The second situation in which schools are legally allowed to drug test students is if they are involved in a competitive extracurricular activity, such as chess club or Intel Science. This became permitted in 2002, as an extension of the ruling in 1995. The problem with this is that some school districts have implemented their own interpretation of the ruling by using it to justify drug testing of all students for trivial circumstances, such as whether or not they should be permitted to attend a school function.

Should Students Be Randomly Drug Tested?

The deeper controversy with school's misinterpreting the Supreme Court ruling is the basis of this ruling in general. Because it permits random drug testing, or RSDT, this gives schools "the right" to drug test their athletes or student competitors whenever they feel necessary, without advising students beforehand.

Schools do this because if they advise students' beforehand about a drug test date, casual drug users can plan accordingly by choosing to avoid drugs a few weeks leading up to the test, which means that schools cannot "catch" students that use drugs. On the other hand, random drug testing can be seen as unfair overall because the argument is that a student who may try a drug one time, shouldn't be penalized in such a harsh manner. It's also considered by many a violation of the student's rights.

Do Teachers Get Drug Tested?

Most teachers who apply to work in a school district will be required to get their fingerprints done and submit a criminal background check. Contrary to what many people might believe, teachers are not typically drug tested upon an interview or during the school year.

However, schools can legally require their teachers to undergo a drug test if the school has reasonable suspicions. For instance, they sense that the teacher is working while under the influence. However, this usually begins with a search and seizure.

The fact of the matter is, even though the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution says that Americans have the right to privacy, both teachers and students essentially waive this right at school for a variety of different reasons. Yet some students may believe that since teachers are only subject to drug tests under reasonable suspicion, then the same standard should apply to students.

Arguments Against Drug Testing in Schools

There are many arguments against drug testing in schools, especially random drug testing. One reason athletes get tested is for the use of performance-enhancing drugs, which many would argue is a fair reason for drug testing, so that no one player has an advantage over another. Aside from this, there are other issues with drug testing students, regardless of whether or not they are athletes:

  • It's considered unconstitutional.
  • Some students may be pressured into trying a drug.
  • A consistent drug user may have an addiction problem and should not be punished.
  • Students have the right to privacy.
  • It's not the school's business what the student does outside of school.
  • The school's budget could be put to better use than drug testing students.
  • Sometimes, drug tests come back positive by mistake.
  • Students are normally punished for failing a drug test, which in no way supports the student to recovery.
  • Some states have legalized the use of both medical and recreational marijuana (this especially goes for teachers).
  • Some would argue that occasional, social drug use (depending on the drug) may be natural to an adolescent's transition into adulthood.
  • Students deserve an education no matter what the circumstance is. Denying a student an education when they may be struggling, could be even worse  for them, as an education is many times the only way out.

Negative Effects of Mandatory Drug Testing

Not only are there many arguments against drug testing in schools, but there are also negative effects of mandatory drug testing on the students on the school body as a whole. Students who are subject to drug testing may feel that they aren't trusted by their administrators, which can effect the student's attitude toward school overall. It also creates a stigma against students who may use drugs, when students are supposed to be taught tolerance and acceptance of their peers, regardless of their differences.

While many drug prevention programs have been implemented in school districts across the United States since the nineties, most of them have not been effective, as can be seen by the huge opioid epidemic in the United States. Ultimately, the most negative effect of mandatory drug testing on teens and college students is that it puts a label on them as a drug user, which can actually have the opposite effect and turn them against achieving their goals in school or seeking appropriate treatment if necessary.

Why Schools Shouldn't Drug Test

There are many reasons why schools shouldn't drug test: violation of privacy, it's unconstitutional, it devalues the student, it takes away opportunities, it creates a judgmental environment, etc. The list goes on and on. While many people who support drug testing in schools would say it helps make school a safe, drug-free environment and helps detect early drug-use in students thereby creating room for the student to seek help, this rarely happens.

Students who are drug tested and test positive for drugs in their system may have many reasons for having done drugs. Even though some people may disagree, it's often normal for students, especially high school students, to experiment with drugs to some degree at this age. While parents and teachers should be aware of any students showing signs of dependency, in many cases, this is not what happens.

The Consequences of Drug Testing

Sometimes, pushing too much for a drug-free campus can actually have the opposite result. Students should be trusted by their elders to make the right decisions for themselves, and at the end of the day, it's important that students stay in school no matter what because that is their best chance of having a successful future. If they are drug tested and punished, they may delve deeper into drug use.

Therefore, schools should avoid drug testing their students, and if they do under certain circumstances, for instance, within their athletic department, they should think about how to best handle that situation. This is because punishment is not always the best course of action when a student is doing drugs. Instead, students should be taught about the effects of drugs, and what to do to best handle the situation responsibly and safely if the opportunity arises.

About the Author

Hana LaRock is a freelance content writer from New York, currently living in Mexico. She has spent the last 5 years traveling the world and living abroad and has lived in South Korea and Israel. Before becoming a writer, Hana worked as a teacher for several years in the U.S. and around the world. She has her teaching certification in Elementary Education and Special Education, as well as a TESOL certification. Hana spent a semester studying abroad at Tel Aviv University during her undergraduate years at the University of Hartford. She hopes to use her experience to help inform others. Please visit her website, www.hanalarockwriting.com, to learn more.