LINWOOD — Talk of Mainland Regional High School’s new random drug and alcohol testing policy filled the school’s hallways Monday, the first day of classes for students.
Many students said that the testing is an invasion of their privacy or that it’s not the school’s job to tell them what they can do outside of school.
“I think (the school) should only test us if they have a reason, like if a teacher suspects you’re on something, then they can test you,” senior Jeff Ang, of Somers Point, said during lunch break. “But if you’re testing kids who don’t do anything, that’s not right.”
The policy, passed by the Board of Education in August, is aimed at Mainland students who are considered to have a special privilege — those who play a sport, are involved in a club or extracurricular activity or have applied for a parking pass in the school lot. Those students include about 80 percent of Mainland’s enrollment.
The students and their parents had to sign consent forms agreeing to be added to a lottery pool for random urinalysis testing for alcohol and various drugs, including marijuana, cocaine and amphetamines.
Students who meet the criteria were given an identification number, which can be drawn at random anytime during the school year. If a student’s number is called and he or she is absent, another will be drawn.
“I understand why they’re doing it, but I think it’s kind of controlling,” said senior John Ellerman, of Linwood.
Passing behind Ang and Ellerman another student called out, “Worst idea ever” and kept on walking.
“A lot of kids aren’t happy about it, as you just heard,” Ang said. “There’s been a lot of people saying that they don’t even want to park in the parking lot because they don’t want to have to go through that whole process.”
Senior Caroline Nagle, of Linwood, also doesn’t agree with the random drug and alcohol testing.
“Parents are supposed to be the ones that are enforcing this. Now, the school’s coming in and doing it?” Nagle said. “It’s almost like trapping people who don’t really know what to do now because of sports and parking. Personally, I think the sports teams are going to hurt because of this, like some people won’t want to participate.”
Linda Rivera, the parent of a Mainland senior, said she supports the policy.
“I don’t think they should be doing the drugs to begin with,” Rivera said.
She said that although she and her son talk openly about the dangers of drug addiction, she realizes the strong effect peer pressure can have on a teenager.
“He’s a good kid, but I know it can happen to good kids, too,” Rivera said.
“One argument I’ve heard is that we shouldn’t be trying to parent kids, that’s the parents’ job,” Mainland Superintendent Thomas Baruffi said. “But my response to that is we do have the authority to demand clean programs and a clean environment for our students. We don’t want students to come to practice high or hung over. We want the best for our kids, and if this is what it takes, so be it.”
In November 1997, the New Jersey School Boards Association adopted a policy supporting the ability of school districts to establish random drug testing programs as a means to ensure the health and safety of students.
Based on that policy, NJSBA entered the 2003 case, Joye vs. Hunterdon Central Regional School Board of Education, in support of that district’s position that its random drug testing program did not violate students’ constitutional rights.
The program involved students who participated in extracurricular activities or who had on-campus parking privileges.
Brick Township High Schools 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.
All New Jersey schools are able to test students they suspect may be using drugs or alcohol.
Baruffi said the purpose for Mainland initiating the policy isn’t to make students feel under attack, but rather to determine if a student has a problem and if so, to get them help.
“We’re not trying to nail kids. It’s not a 'gotcha' kind of thing, and we’re not out to prove anything,” he said. “We know some of our teenagers are engaging in drug and alcohol use. There’s nothing to prove. Our focus is on what we can do to help our kids so they don’t slip through the cracks.”
The consequences of testing positive increase in severity depending on the number of offenses. For example, a first-time offender would have to attend counseling, agree to subsequent random testing and their parents would be notified. A second-time offender will have to do all of the above, plus will be suspended from their privilege for 30 consecutive days. A third-time offender will be suspended from their privilege for as long as one year.
Baruffi said if a student tests positive a first time and gives consent to three subsequent random drug tests then tests positive a second time, that would mean one of two things, they didn’t care about the privilege or they have a problem and need help.
Mainland Principal Mark Marrone said, if nothing else, the new policy will give students a reason to say no to peer pressure.
“If they need a reason, it’s now, ‘I can’t because my school drug tests,’” Marrone said.
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