A Texas panhandle school district is facing some heavy criticism this week after announcing that they plan to drug test any student, seventh grade and up, who wants to participate in extracurricular activities or apply for a parking permit.
As classes begin in the Bushland Independent School District in Amarillo, Texas, next month, students will be asked to subject themselves to saliva or urine-sample drug testing if they wish to participate in activities like band or orchestra, assembling the yearbook, student council, sports teams and even chess club. Students who want to drive to school and park on campus will also need to pass one of these drug tests. These drug tests would search for seven major substances, including alcohol, marijuana, opioids and heroin. According to the school’s Assistant Superintendent, Angie Watson, the district doesn’t have a serious addiction, but the new policy is meant to serve as a deterrent, to discourage students from “doing anything that would harm them.”
In a quote given to WZZM 13, Watson said “There isn’t an apparent drug problem, … but that isn’t to say that children across the nation are not being introduced to drugs and getting into drugs. We’re just trying to be proactive. We’re giving them a reason to not do that.”
A noble idea, but in terms of actual practice, it’s raising some heckles. Violations of privacy aside, this feels more like a bandaid over a wound than a proactive initiative, and the wound isn’t even that big. According to Monitoring the Future’s research out of U of M, teen addiction has decreased dramatically in recent years, and is continuing to trend downward. Also, assuming the addiction isn’t apparent on the surface, then students who are already doing drugs or consuming alcohol privately likely won’t stop doing them once this policy in place. What they’ll really do, or not do, is participate. This new policy serves more as a deterrent for children with issues at home, substance abuse issues, etc. who are already exposed to or turn to drugs due to issues outside of the classroom, discouraging them from getting involved in afterschool programs or activities and providing them with further stress, discouragement and opportunities to turn toward drugs or alcohol. That may be something of an extreme measure, but realistically, if a teenager who already smoked cigarettes or vaped found out they couldn’t join a club because they’d need to pass a drug test, they just wouldn’t join the club.
Not only will it reinforce the notion of not participating, in life or in school, but it also reinforces the feeling that your authority figures do not trust you, and therefore need to have control over you. Any teen or young adult knows the frustration and agitation that comes from people attempting to police your behavior, and teenage rebellion is a healthy and natural part of growing up and establishing boundaries, in healthy households and situations. Enforcing drug testing, even if it’s only voluntary by interest, reminds children that they are a part of a system, and its not a system designed to support them, but rather, to train them.
I agree that underage substance abuse, or any substance abuse, is bad and should be addressed, but it is also important to note that instituting tests comes with a whole host of other factors that will come into play. For example, what if a kid DOES fail a drug test? Will the school report them to the police? Are there any opportunities to uplift these students in other ways, or provide them with the resources necessary to combat their addictions or situations that put them at risk of addiction? It would likely be more beneficial, and go over a lot smoother with everyone, if they simultaneously offered special counseling services in tandem with the drug tests, or if they enforced a vision of recovery rather than persecution. It’s also worth noting that fund for this program were set aside out of the school’s budget, meaning money was taken away from other departments and allocated to potential drug tests, which means it’s highly unlikely they can also afford in-school therapy.
Being a kid or teen is stressful enough without adults treating you like risky criminals, and does not encourage a warm, welcoming learning environment, or foster any sort of positive relationships with authority figures. Once again, while I believe this idea is noble in concept, it’s not very well thought out, though it’s hard to say for certain how effective it will be until it’s actually in practice.
Sarah Nowack is a senior professional writing major who is minoring in graphic design. Her days are spent haunting the local library, consuming copious amounts of coffee, playing unpopular video games, and making terrible puns. She can be found at @battlerouge on Twitter and @shiverbound on Instagram.