About 100 Mainland Regional High School students have been randomly tested for drugs since September, and only two have tested positive, which the administration at the school in Linwood says is lower than in the past few years and signifies a success.
“This indicates one of two things,” Principal Mark Marrone said. “The drug testing is working, or our kids weren’t doing drugs in the first place.”
The district’s Board of Education instituted a randomized drug testing policy at the start of the school year as a method of dealing with alleged alcohol and drug use involving its students outside of school. Previously, the administration was permitted to test a student only if it suspected he or she was drunk or high while in school or during a school-related activity.
Random drug testing of students is permitted by law and has been upheld in several court decisions, including decisions from the New Jersey and the U.S. supreme courts.
The New Jersey School Boards Association has a long-standing policy that supports giving local school boards the authority to conduct random drug testing of students involved in athletics and other extracurricular activities, its website states. State law requires random drug testing in schools be tied to a privilege.
Under Mainland’s policy, any student who plays a sport, participates in a club or has a parking pass in the school parking lot — which Mainland considers privileges — is subject to being called to the nurse’s office and asked to take a urinalysis sample at any time during the school year and without reason. About 950 of Mainland’s 1,400 students qualify for testing.
The tests screen for alcohol and a number of drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, methadone, PCP and opiate. The testing is overseen by an outside company hired by the district, Safe Sport Testing Service Inc., and costs the district $28 per test.
Consequences of testing positive increase in severity with each offense, with strike one resulting in a phone call home and a counseling session. Strike three leads to suspension from all clubs and sports for one full calendar year.
The urine samples are held for several days and, at the request of parents, can be retested at their expense.
Marrone said the goal of the policy is prevention and intervention, not punishment,
“I tell the kids all the time, use me as your excuse,” he said. “If you’re at a party and someone asks you if you want to smoke marijuana, say, ‘I can’t, my school drug-tests.’”
Mainland students have been vocal in opposing the policy since its start, citing an invasion of privacy, unfairness because it excludes some students and overstepping authority.
“It’s tedious and one-sided,” said senior Ethan Fischer, a Mainland tennis player and a member of the drama club. “The students who are physically involved in school activities aren’t the ones they should be targeting. It’s the kids who aren’t involved in anything, the ones who don’t care, that they should test.”
Mainland senior Lauren Linn believes the old method of drug testing based on suspicion of drug or alcohol use was more effective. She’s seen a reverse effect from the random tests, with students taking advantage of the presumed window of time between tests.
“I’ve heard people be like, ‘They tested this morning, so we’re good for a while,’ and then they’ll go smoke or whatever during lunch,” she said.
Linn said being asked to take a random drug test is also discomforting.
“It’s a bit frustrating, not to mention it’s embarrassing to be told to pee in a cup,” she said. “They say it’s confidential, but when someone disappears from the lunch table or gets called out of class, you know.”
In an informal survey issued by NJSBA in 2012, 64.3 percent of districts that responded said they did not engage in random drug testing, while 20.5 percent replied that they test student athletes, 13.4 percent noted they test students who participate in extracurricular activities, and 8.9 percent said they test students who request parking privileges on school grounds.
An additional 8.9 percent of respondents “didn’t know” the specifics of their policy, and of the several respondents who checked “other,” some noted that their district is investigating random drug testing. Respondents were able to check more than one box.
Lacey Township in Ocean County adopted its policy to do random drug testing in December, while the school board at Northern Valley Regional in Bergen County voted down the idea. Brick Township High School in Ocean County also has a policy allowing the district to test students involved in athletics and those who have a parking pass, as do some local private schools.
Another recent study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol found high schoolers who attended schools with drug testing were equally likely to try marijuana, cigarettes or alcohol as students who went to schools without drug testing policies.
The study also found that students who felt their school was a positive environment were less likely to try drugs. These students were 20 percent less likely to report trying marijuana and 15 percent less likely to smoke cigarettes compared to students who did not describe their school as positive. School environment had no impact on drinking habits, the study said.
Marrone said the Mainland Board of Education will review its policy at the end of the school year and make appropriate adjustments if necessary.
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