Just Say 'Shame'?

Nathaniel Hawthorne would shudder.

If high schoolers say no to a drug test in at least one school in Dutch Fork, S.C., they won't get gold stars on their sleeves as a sign of compliance. Indeed, this potential for public humiliation has been called a kind of reverse scarlet letter.

For $10, parents can pay for a voluntary drug test, and students earn stars, in an attempt to put pride for being drug-free before punishment. That fits a growing trend toward voluntary drug testing.

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But this peer-pressure approach to reducing drug use in schools skirts only slightly around the usual Fourth Amendment constitutional question of "unreasonable search" when it comes to testing students for drugs. It doesn't do away with the notion that drug testing is invasive, both physically - and now mentally.

Small wonder some students, who might object to even this voluntary drug test for sound legal and moral reasons, would have difficulty being presumed as drug users by their peers when, in fact, they're not. There are other ways to develop character and promote responsible behavior.

That both parents and students say they like the idea is understandable. The environment where this experiment is being conducted is unique - it's largely upper-income, religious, conservative. Drug use, overall, is not as severe as in, for example, New York's inner city schools.

Still, half of Dutch Fork high school students report smoking marijuana, and this experiment, while somewhat clever, is a small step in a direction away from mandatory drug testing of students.

Drug use among teens remains a serious issue, but parents must not place the responsibility for drug-free kids at the front door of the school.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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