Drug Tests for All Kids?

A family in the Texas panhandle town of Lockney has filed a court challenge against the mandatory drug testing of all students at the public junior and senior high schools.

It's a challenge well worth wider debate in the United States, and not one left just to federal court judges.

The legality of such a sweeping presumption of guilt by a public school is one thing.

But the morality of such intrusive action on many innocent children is another.

Lockney, like many towns in the US, is desperate to keep drugs and drugged-up kids out of the schools to ensure a safe and disciplined learning environment. Parents who are unable to ensure their children are clean of drugs, or who don't trust other parents to have done so, have pressured the school board to take the step of asking permission from all parents to conduct random urine tests of students.

For students who fail the test, various punishments - such as a three-day suspension - will be handed out. But punishment will also be given to students who refuse the test - or whose parents don't give permission.

Lockney's officials contend that drugs have become such a large and legitimate concern that schools can be reasonably suspicious of all students.

The Supreme Court has ruled that schools can have mandatory drug testing of athletes. And it has let stand a similar ruling allowing testing of students in extra-curricular programs.

But the Lockney case could force the court to decide if blanket testing of all students is an "unreasonable search" that violates the Constitution's Fourth Amendment.

If the court is wise, it will set the bar very high for such a drastic measure. Or it can avoid making a ruling in hopes that other, nonjudicial solutions prevail.

Before communities sidestep the Constitution, they can do much more to help parents keep kids off drugs. And schools can do more to create a drug-free culture among students.

Antidrug measures should be driven not by fear of addiction but by a love for the ability of all students to reach their potential. That idea is easily expressed by offering, for instance, better extra-curricular activities.

Bodily exams will just send the wrong message to children.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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