Sunday, Jul 24, 2016
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EDITORIAL

The wrong lesson

Students at Fremont Ross High School are getting a civics lesson — but not the kind they should receive from an institution of learning.

Starting next year, about half of the school’s 1,300 students will have to undergo random drug testing. The new policy, backed by the school board, covers student athletes, those who take part in extracurricular activities such as band, and even students who drive to school and park on school property.

The effects of random testing on drug use are unclear. One study even suggests that while random tests lower the use of marijuana, they increase the use of harder drugs whose active ingredients don’t linger in the user’s system as long.

Moreover, this excessively invasive practice violates students’ right to privacy — or at least the spirit of the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment.

The school’s plan for unannounced urine screenings that can test for alcohol and drugs is probably legal, but barely so. In a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, justices voted 5-4 to allow random drug tests of middle and high school students participating in competitive extracurricular activities. Before that, such testing was limited to student athletes.

Implicit in random drug testing is the notion that government does not need probable cause to search, seize, or act. Arbitrary, unreasonable intrusions become assaults on privacy and dignity that everyone must tolerate in the interest of some greater good, real or imagined.

To their credit, Fremont school officials have tried to make the plan less onerous. Positive tests will not cause suspension or expulsion, and test results will not be documented in a student’s academic record.

The policy bans first-time violators from participating in 20 percent of games or other activities. They must meet with a counselor for a drug assessment, and perform 20 hours of community service.

Second-time violators cannot take part in athletics, extracurricular activities, or parking privileges for a year.

To pay for next year’s tests, the school district has set aside $20,000 from state casino tax revenue. They could better spend that money on drug education and counseling for those who need it.

Nearly 30 percent of U.S. high school students now submit to drug testing. One of the legacies of their doing so will be less sensitivity about violating the privacy rights of others.

In 2012, St. John’s Jesuit High School and Academy in Toledo — a private school — started random tests for all students and staff. “It’s really been kind of a nonissue,” a school official told The Blade. “It’s just kind of become … the expectation here.”

But that’s not a lesson students, or parents, should expect from their schools.

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