Drug test policies not likely to change, area schools say

 
and Erin Holmes
 
Updated 4/4/2014 5:52 PM
Editor's note: This story originally ran on June 28, 2002 as part of the Daily Herald's "Hidden Scourge: Heroin in the Suburbs" series.

Despite a ruling by the Supreme Court Thursday that gave permission to test students involved in extracurricular activities for drugs, most schools throughout the suburbs said such testing is unlikely to happen or even harmful. However, some recognized the tests as a potential tool against drug abuse.

The majority of school districts throughout the suburbs do not have drug testing in place for athletes - which has been legal for several years - much less for students in other activities like choir or academic teams.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Just hours after the decision, school districts said the ruling might spark some discussion of testing, but most doubted there would be any policy changes.

"I don't lean in favor of it," said Charles McCormick, superintendent of Kaneland School District 302. "If it was a rampant problem, really a rampant problem, then maybe I'd consider it. It seems awfully intrusive to me."

No school district contacted eliminated the possibility of drug testing in the future. Should an extensive drug problem arise in their schools, officials could reconsider their initial hesitancy.

One school district might reconsider even sooner.

"It's obvious that there is clear-cut, wide-spread drug use by young people, and this may give us one more tool to combat that," said Tom Paulsen, principal of Naperville Central High School. He anticipates a discussion of drug testing soon based on the court's decision.

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Overall, school officials recognized the tests as a touchy subject. Privacy, unnecessary intrusions, cost, combative atmospheres and concerns about dissuading school participation are all factors in deciding whether to adopt a policy.

"It's a very delicate matter," said Elizabeth A. Ennis, superintendent of Northwest Suburban High School District 214. "(It's) one that the school district might consider, but I doubt very much that we would go to such an extreme."

School districts choosing to implement a testing policy should view it as a method to help students rather than blackball them, said drug rehabilitation experts. Drug testing in schools should be a method of identifying the students with problems, they said.

The operative word overall is choice. Despite the Supreme Court's permission, drug testing is not a mandate. It remains a local decision for school boards and administrators.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Such a decision should be made in the context of the severity of the local drug problem, said Lee Milner, spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Education.

"Drugs are certainly a big concern," he said. "It is a big problem for some districts, a smaller problem for others, but it is a problem."

Problem or not, privacy experts say drug tests are inherently invasive and prove nothing about how a drug entered someone's body, why, or what effect it had on the person.

Matthew Finkin, a University of Illinois law professor, said for the Supreme Court to rule such a test is not an invasion of privacy is absurd.

"My own thinking is that it's outrageous," he said. "It's an atrocious decision. Drug testing is enormously invasive and humiliating, and submission to the test is ideologically repugnant."

The humiliation factor and potential emotional trauma of being subjected to such a test to prove your drug purity is an additional factor, especially when it comes to younger students.

Richard Katz, a faculty member at the National College of Education and middle school teacher, said testing at too young an age could be severely damaging.

Students 14 and younger are still discovering themselves and their bodies and need a nurturing environment where they feel safe, he said. Drug testing could cause feelings of anger, fear and a general sense of being threatened.

"Random drug testing is just going to terrify middle level students, and developmentally it's going to be very harmful to morality, privacy and personal growth," he said.

His wife, Heidi Katz, is an attorney with Robbins, Schwartz, Nicolas, Lifton and Taylor, Ltd., a firm specializing in school law for districts from Zion to downstate Cairo.

She said the Supreme Court's decision not only opens the door for expanded drug testing, but also could show a willingness by the court to open the gates for testing for all students, regardless of participation in an activity.

But, in tight financial times, school districts will not necessarily jump at the chance to implement testing, she said, nor did they when it was approved for athletes.

For many districts, it remains a non-issue, regardless of cost, law or politics.

"We're not doing it and I don't know that we would start just because of this ruling," said Terri McHugh, representing Schaumburg Township Elementary School District 54. "There has never been a concern about kids appearing to take drugs, or any discussion about us testing them."

- Daily Herald staff writers Ames Boykin , Justin Kmitch, Natasha Korecki, Sally McDowell, Kristin Netterstrom, Victoria Pierce and C.L. Waller contributed to this story.

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