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Debate: Drug testing in schools

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Should school students face mandatory drug-tests?

Background and context

In a landmark ruling, the US Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in Vernonia School District v. Acton that schools could randomly test student athletes for drug use, after a student, James Acton, was banned from trialling for his school football team without consenting to a test. Debaters take note: the Todd case in the US 7th Circuit Court of Appeals (covering Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin) in 1998 extended the right to test to all participants in extra-curricular activities. The legal battle for the school’s right to drug-test has gained and lost ground for many years in the USA; in 2000 the Indiana Supreme Court banned such testing where the student concerned was not suspected of drug-taking. The debate is about society’s desire to combat a growing drugs problem, pitted against the constitutional or notional right to privacy. Tests can be conducted on urine, hair or breath.

Contents

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Civil liberties: Would forced drug testing uphold the civil liberties of tested students?

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Yes

  • Students who do not break the law by taking drugs have nothing to fear.
  • In certain circumstances it is better to compromise certain rights in order to uphold other values. While it can be argued that these tests compromise one's right to privacy, we have to realize that safety and health are much more important. It is just like the controls at the airports: We disclose our personal data in exchange for greater safety.
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No

  • Forced drug-testing would violate the principle of innocent until proven guilty. Most justice systems hold to the notion of innocence until proven guilty. To enforce random drug testing (thereby invading the privacy of students about whom there is no suspicion of drug use) is to view them as guilty until proven innocent. Nothing justifies the sacrifice of human rights for innocent people.
  • Innocent students do have something to fear – the violation of privacy and loss of dignity caused by a drug test.
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Fighting drug use: Is random drug testing an effective means to deterring drug use?

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Yes

  • Deterring drug use is the main objective of random drug testing. The purpose of random drug testing is not so much to catch offenders but to prevent all students from offending in the first place.
  • Random drug testing will effectively utilize social and peer pressures: Peer pressure is the primary cause of experimentation with drugs Discouraging drug use amongst athletes, model students etc. sends a powerful message to the entire student body.
  • There is a clear and present problem with drug use among teenagers in many countries. Current measures to tackle drugs at the source (i.e. by imprisoning dealers and breaking the supply chain) are not succeeding. It is especially important to protect teenagers, at an impressionable age and at the time when their attitude to education greatly affects their entire lives. Some sacrifice of human rights is necessary to tackle the drug problem.
  • There are many simple methods of drug testing that are not too invasive. Urine, hair and breath samples can be used to detect use of most common drugs, especially cannabis, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine or PCP.
  • Drug education clearly does not work. Although young people have enough information about drugs, they carry on ruining their health. Therefore, new methods are needed.
  • Random drug tests make the school environment better. Instead of having students high (or even with worser symptoms), we are moving on to having responsible students aware of the consequences that come with drug usage.
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No

  • There are means of preventing drug use other than obligatory drug tests. The idea of prevention goes to the root of the drug problem; other methods of deterrence are less invasive, such as encouraging extra-curricular activities, drug education, fostering better parental relations, tackling poverty and safety and so on.
  • Forced drug testing will only encourage further rebellion. Teenagers, especially drug-taking teenagers, are attracted by rebellion and the chance of beating the system. Draconian, Big Brother-style tactics of random drug testing will only provoke resentment and encourage students to break the law. Peer pressure is increased as they unite against school authorities.
  • Drug users will only turn to drugs that are more difficult to test, such as ‘designer’ drugs, or use masking agents before being tested.
  • Education is the ultimate deterrent, not random testing. If the prospect of running after dragons is not scary enough, then random drug tests sound almost like fun.
  • Random tests are ineffective. There are three groups of school children:
a) those who do not take drugs at all
b) those who do drugs only from time to time on Friday evenings
c) those who do drugs regularly
While causing great inconvenience to a, having absolutely no impact on b (as no traces of drugs are found after a couple of days), we are not tackling the problem itself, as c children hardly ever show up for their classes. And when they do, they have such symptoms that we do not need random tests to tell that they are on drugs.
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Government: Does the government have the right to intervene in internal school affairs?

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Yes

  • Responsibility and obligation to protect. The government has the ultimate responsibility to protect the citizens. And random drug tests are an effective measure on both the individual as well as the social level.
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No

  • The government does not have the right to intervene. Schools are supposed to be independent institutions, not some kind of artificially created "government investigating bureaus".
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Message: Is random drug testing sending the right message?

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Yes

  • "Drugs are wrong and harmful". Children have to realize that taking drugs is never OK and that they should not get away with it. Random tests are basically saying: "If you are breaking the law, you have to deal with the consequences."
  • Everybody is equal. Given that these tests would be random, it shows the "problematic" students that we are not picking on them; it is just a matter of luck whether they are tested or not. Therefore, we are neither unjust nor prejudiced, because the system itself does not allow for such an approach.
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No

  • "It is OK to freely investigate. The real message random drug tests are sending are almost Orwelian. Random tests infringe upon the innocents' right to privacy.
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Economics: Are random tests a waste of resources?

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Yes

  • Random tests are ineffective. Testing randomly has a serious disadvantage: We are testing many students who - clearly - do not do drugs. Thus, we are wasting our (and their) time, money (because the tests are not particularly cheap) and, what is even worse, we are able to catch only a very small number of students who actually do not obey the law.
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No

  • The benefits outweigh the costs. Due to the fact that these tests act as deterrents and lead to a drug-free school environment and thus a healthier and better society, they are clearly worth the costs.
  • The future benefits should be taken into account too. Given that random tests have the deterrent effect, they prevent the development of serious addictions (such as when people move on from marijuana to heroine).

See also

External links and resources

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