Parents, Students, Drugs

Beginning next January, students in the Dade County (Florida) school system whose parents have signed a consent form will be pulled out of class at random to submit to a drug test. Those whose parents don't sign won't be tested.

The program was devised so as not to trample on students' constitutional rights. It takes the ball out of the school's court and puts it in the parent's, saying, in effect, "We'll do this only if you ask us to." A private testing agency will let parents know if children test positive and recommend treatment and counseling. Schools won't know who tests positive.

The Supreme Court has already taken a position on this kind of issue. In 1985, it upheld the search of a teenage girl's purse for cigarettes on the grounds that smoke in the school bathroom provided the reasonable suspicion called for in the Fourth Amendment. And in 1995, the court ruled that middle and high-school athletes can be required to submit to drug tests as a condition of participation in sports - even if their behavior doesn't suggest any actual drug use.

Random testing may help deter drug use. Parents may see it as a helpful aid. The courts may uphold it. But drug tests done at school - like those done at home from a do-it-yourself kit - can't, and shouldn't, take the place of the best preventive method of all: parents consistently and lovingly discussing with their children why drugs are wrong and harmful - and making it clear that use won't be tolerated.

One school board member, explaining the decision to test students, said, "Not all parents have the time to make sure their kids aren't doing drugs." Yet, parents can't sign away their responsibility. What happens if a child tests positive? If parents don't take the time to make sure their children aren't doing drugs, random drug testing at school will do little in the long run unless parents take action.

As federal drug czar Barry McCaffrey told the Monitor last year, referring to home drug tests, "... five days a week have supper with your children and listen to them. And on Sundays, go to church ... and spend Sunday together as a family. I would argue that is much more useful than catching them on a test on Monday morning." We agree.

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