We do not doubt for a moment the good intentions of the Mainland Regional High School Board of Education, which recently approved a policy allowing random drug and alcohol testing of students.
But as counterintuitive as it may seem to some, random drug testing of students is a bad idea, even (and especially) in the one particular way the courts have allowed such tests.
In an attempt to limit what justices considered a clear invasion of privacy, both the U.S. Supreme Court and the New Jersey Supreme Court have approved only the random testing of students engaged in extracurricular activities and sports and of those seeking privileges such as parking permits. And that's exactly what Mainland will now be doing.
But this random testing of students engaged in extracurricular activities and sports targets the kids least likely to be doing drugs. As N.J. Supreme Court Justice Jaynee LaVecchia noted in her dissent to the court's July 2003 ruling: "There simply is no crisis or problem of 'epidemic' proportion within the targeted population."
There's an obvious Fourth Amendment problem. "Random" drug tests mean "suspicionless" drug tests. In other words, a highly invasive, personal search for which there is no probable cause. Isn't that wrong - even if it's done for a good cause?
As Justice Sandra Day O'Connor noted in her dissent to the 1995 Supreme Court ruling allowing such testing, "There is nothing new in the realization that Fourth Amendment protections come with a price."
Furthermore, Mainland Superintendent Thomas Baruffi has said the policy was prompted by reports of alcohol and drug use at parties off school grounds. May we suggest that what happens outside of school is a matter between the young person and his or her parents - and none of the school's business?
After all, detection is rarely the problem regarding student drug use. It's no secret to anyone in a high school which students are doing drugs. And schools already have ample authority to suspend students who are suspected of being high at school and to see that they are tested. That should be good enough.
Finally, random testing programs such as Mainland's can push kids away from school organizations. Extracurricular activities foster trust and community, as well as give students a sense of self-worth and achievement. That's good, right? But random drug tests create a sense of mistrust and invite alienation. In the end, they push our children further away.