It is no secret that many Americans have problems with drug use. Problems in this regard are commonly thought to emerge during the high school years; but it is possible that they could emerge even earlier than that, within the middle school setting. This can give rise to the question: should middle school students be drug tested? There are several different issues wrapped up within this question. This sample essay is just one of the many features provided by Ultius, and it’s aim is to develop a cogent analysis of these issues in order to reach an informed conclusion regarding the question at hand.
In particular, four main issues will be considered.
- The first will consist of the question of whether drug testing in schools—at any grade level—is itself moral and constitutional.
- The second will consist of whether drug testing in schools actually works with respect to preventing substance abuse.
- The third will consist of whether middle schools in particular should become venues of drug testing.
- The fourth will consist of a discussion of a key recommendation that has been made regarding the issue at hand.
A conclusion will be reached on this basis that middle school students should not be tested for drugs.
The moral side of drug testing students
To start with, a strong case could be made that there are serious moral problems inherent in the notion of schools—any schools, middle grade level or otherwise—implemented a policy of mandatory drug testing for its students. Essentially, such a policy would imply that schools are charged with a police function, and that they have the prerogative to monitor the activities of their students even when those students are not within the school setting itself. This is a highly controversial premise; and unless it is accepted, it would be almost impossible to engage in any further discussion of the potential merits of implementing a policy of drug testing for middle school students.
Rocah, for example, has written the following on this matter on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union:
“One of the fundamental features of our legal system is that we are presumed innocent of any wrongdoing unless and until the government proves otherwise. Random drug testing of student[s] . . . turns this presumption on its head, telling students that we assume they are using drugs until they prove to the contrary with a urine sample” (paragraph 2).
Is it even legal?
In general, the American Constitution prohibits searches of persons, except in the event that there is reasonable cause and evidence for searching specific given persons. The implementation of a universal drug testing policy, especially within the school setting, would fundamentally undermine this constitutional protection against unreasonable searches, as the vast majority of students do not exhibit any behaviors that would qualify as reasonable cause for compelling them to undergo a drug test.
On the other hand, PBS has indicated that there is in fact case law precedent, including Supreme Court decisions, that support the right of schools to implement a policy of mandatory drug testing for its students:
“A closely-divided court ruled [in the year 2002] that the ability of schools to rid their campuses of illegal drugs outweighs an individual’s right to privacy. The decision allows schools to test students who participate in any competitive after-school programs for drug use, even without any particular suspicion of wrongdoing” (paragraph 1).
Not just for competitions
It is worth noting here, that the drug testing policy here would extend only to students who represent a given school in competition against other schools: the logic here would seem to be that if students want to engage in such activities, then it would be appropriate for them to waive their right to protection against unreasonable searches.
Some schools, however, are attempting to go past the precedent set by this Supreme Court ruling and implement random drug testing for all students, and not just the students who competitively represent the schools (National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse). This makes the school an explicit policing agent that is not simply looking out for its own reputation but rather overtly attempting to control the behaviors and lifestyles of its students. This is highly problematic, for as Fortas (qtd. in Rocah) has written:
“In our system, state-operated schools may not be enclaves of totalitarianism. School officials do not possess absolute authority over their students. Students in school as well as out of school are ‘persons’ under our Constitution” (paragraph 1).
It is unclear whether universal drug testing for students within the school—within the middle school or any other school—could stand up at the legal level, and it quite certainly does not stand up at the moral level.
Stoping students from using drugs
Shifting away from the legal/moral dimension of the question of whether middle schools should drug test their students, it will now also be worthwhile to consider the issue from the pragmatic angle—that is, with respect to the question of whether drug testing in middle schools would in fact actually help reduce the prevalence of drug use within those schools. The verdict on this question would seem to be somewhat divided. Ingraham has interpreted the extant evidence to mean that drug testing by schools is not in fact really an effective means for preventing drug use among students:
“A 2013 study looked at 14 years of data on student drug use and found that school drug testing was associated with ‘moderately lower marijuana use,’ but increased use of other, more dangerous illicit drugs;” and another 2013 study found “no long-term effects on either drug use or intention to use drugs in the future” between students who were and were not tested for drugs by their schools” (paragraph 6).
This would seem to indicate that a drug testing policy is simply a waste of time and money.
Other stakeholders, however, have reached a different conclusion in this regard. The Join Together Staff, for example, has reported on a study that found that
“students who were randomly tested for drugs [in middle school] were less likely to use them in later years,” possibly because “when middle-school students are tested for drugs, they realize drug use can get them in trouble” (paragraphs 2 and 4).
The main idea here would be that making it clear that drugs are in fact illegal and can lead one down a path that one would not want to go, drug testing can help students develop attitudes toward drugs that may lead them to stay away from drugs over the course of their lives. Moreover, this perspective specifically lends support to the idea that middle school students should be tested for drugs, since if the idea is to cultivate a certain attitude, then the younger the students are, the better. If one waited till high school to intervene, for example, students may have already begun to develop bad attitudes toward drugs, making any intervention that much less effective from the start.
Middle Schools in Particular
It is now worth turning more specific attention to the middle school setting in particular—which, after all, is the specific focus of the present essay. All of the moral, legal, and pragmatic issues that pertain to drug testing in all schools in general clearly also pertain to the practice of drug testing in middle schools in particular. The middle school setting, however, has two specific additional concerns that must be taken into account.
The first is that the drug testing policy would affect students who by and large almost certainly have not had any kind of serious exposure to drugs, which would mean that the intervention would be meant almost exclusively to shape attitudes and not to curb drug abuse.
The second is that drug testing, by making drugs an issue when it is not yet actually an issue for the students themselves, may paradoxically end up actually encouraging drug use instead of preventing it. Furthermore, as drugs like marijuana become increasingly legal, the message against certain drugs could be confusing to students of middle school age.
In this context, it is worth turning to Foudy and Whitman’s question of whether middle school drug testing should be seen as an “effective deterrent” or as an “overbearing policy.” Essentially, if drug testing is implemented in middle schools, then the only possible rationale for this would be that such testing would prevent students who would have otherwise engaged in drugs to now instead not engage in drugs.
However, in the absence of clear evidence that drug use is in fact rampant within the student body of any given middle school, the policy quickly becomes overbearing,as it seems to accuse the student body as a whole of a crime that the vast majority of students were not even thinking about committing in the first place. Even worse than that, such a policy may even begin to encourage middle school students to experiment with drugs, as it treats them as if they were already engaged in such an activity anyway.
Out of the relative muddle of different perspectives on drug testing for middle school students, at least one strong and very clear recommendation has emerged. This is how Sifferlin has summarized the position of the American Academy of Pediatrics on this matter: the organization released a policy statement saying
“it opposes randomly testing students because there’s not enough evidence to show it’s effective, and because random testing can damage relationships between students and their schools. It’s also a possible infringement on privacy” (paragraph 2).
The American Academy of Pediatrics is a prestigious organization whose central priority is the health and well-being as children; therefore, the fact that this organization would come out against random drug testing by schools for students must be weighed in a quite heavy way. Indeed, this would seem to be the strongest single recommendation on this matter that has emerged thus far, out of all the literature and discussion that has cropped up around this subject.
In particular, it is worth observing the organization’s concern for the mental and social well-being of the students: the organization’s statement is tantamount to the observation that random drug testing in middle schools would essentially treat middle school students—that is, children between the ages of about 12 and 14—as potential criminals who need to be carefully monitored and tracked.
This would likely cultivate in the students not an aversion to drugs but rather an aversion to the schools and institutions that insist on treating children in this way in the first place; and such an ethos would likely lead children to experiment with drugs in the future, under the logic that the enemy of one’s enemy could be one’s friend. In short, as random drug testing by schools would create a hostile and antagonistic atmosphere of mutual suspicion, there is every reason to believe that such a policy would not prevent drug use but rather exacerbate it—or even actually create a problem where none previously existed.
In summary, the present essay has consisted of a critical analysis of the practice of drug testing for middle school students. After considering multiple aspects of the issue under consideration, the essay has reached the clear conclusion that middle school students should not be subjected to random drug testing by their schools. For one thing, such a practice is definitely immoral and almost certainly unconstitutional; for another, there is little evidence that it even works; and finally, at the psychological level, the practice could be expected to not address the problem but simply make it worse. For all of these reasons, the present essay has reached its conclusion against the practice of drug testing for middle school students.
Foudy, Julie, and Jake Whitman. “Middle School Drug Testing: Effective Deterrent or Overbearing Policy?” ABC News. 8 Apr. 2013. Web. 1 Sep. 2016. policy/story?id=18906520>.
Ingraham, Christopher. “School Drug Tests: Costly, Ineffective, and More Common than You Think.” Washington Post. 27 Apr. 2015. Web. 1 Sep. 2016. .
Join Together Staff. “Drug Testing of Middle-School Students May Help Prevent Substance Abuse: Study.” Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. 8 Mar. 2013. Web. 1 Sep. 2016. .
National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. “Should Students Be Drug Tested at School?” The Buzz. 29 Jan. 2016. .
PBS Admin. “Supreme Court Upholds High School Drug Testing.” PBS. 27 Jun. 2002. Web. 1 Sep. 2016. .
Rocah, David. “ACLU Op-Ed Against Drug Testing.” ACLU, n.d. Web. 1 Sep. 2016. .
Sifferlin, Alexandra. “Pediatrics Group Says Schools Shouldn’t Drug Test.” Time. 30 Mar. 2015. Web. 1 Sep. 2016. .