Student drivers subject to drug tests

JACKSON – (AP) The first day back at school typically means lots of forms to fill out from clubs, classes and extracurricular activities. But some students in one district also have to sign a consent form to be tested for drugs in order to receive a parking permit.

An amendment to Madison County Schools' drug testing policy means students who drive to school are now subject to random tests, a move applauded by parents and administrators but questioned by a civil rights group.

The district already randomly tests any student involved in extracurricular activities from grades seven and up. However, the new policy expands the testing pool by also adding all sophomores, juniors and seniors who purchase a parking decal, a requirement dubbed “pee to park'' in some circles.

It's the first such expansion in the metro area, but more schools in the state and country are moving toward the parking requirement.

For the most part, reactions to the expanded testing pool have been positive, said Superintendent Ronnie McGehee. “It's just another tool for our young people to say, `Look, I don't need to anything because I may be selected.' ”

Students – identified solely by an assigned number – are randomly chosen by a computer by the outside testing company, McGehee said. The schools try to test at least once a month, and roughly 10 percent of the overall testing pool is selected for each test.

But the random part of the policy isn't the problem for the American Civil Liberties Union, an organization that instead takes issue with requiring students to submit to what constitutes a search in order to park on campus or participate in extracurricular activities.

“Our position is that student drug testing is part of the problem, not the solution,'' said Jennifer Riley-Collins, executive director for the state chapter of the ACLU.

If the district uses random testing to deter students from using drugs, it's ineffective, she said.

“It's not only ineffective, it takes away from already limited school resources,'' Riley-Collins said. “It takes away from extracurricular after-school programs for at-risk students.''

Yet, some parents are encouraged by the drug policy.

Kim Erickson is one of the pleased parents.

“I think drugs are in all schools, whether people believe it or not,'' said the mother of a Madison Central senior. “I think it should be all students who are tested.''

When her son was still at MCHS and in the band, Erickson said he was one of the students randomly tested. “I said, `Buddy, that thing better come back negative,' ” Erickson said.

It did, she added.

“As parents we can't take for granted that our children won't be led astray by peer pressure,'' she said. “We've got to be proactive as parents.''

Amy Dear also had a child selected to be tested, and the mother of four children in the district said she is happy with the policy.

“When my daughter was a cheerleader in the eighth grade, she was tested five times that year,'' Dear said.

One of Dear's children just started her senior year at MCHS, and she'll be driving to school. “Parking is a privilege on campus,'' she said.

But the legality of the policy concerns Riley-Collins, who pointed out a U.S. Supreme Court case – Board of Education of Independent School District No. 92 of Pottawatomie County v. Earls – that only permits random drug testing for extracurricular activities that are competitive. “I don't think Madison County schools have a drag race program.''

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court has not ruled whether student parking is a valid reason for requiring drug testing, leading the U.S. Department of Education to require that any federal grant money used by districts for random drug tests be spent only on students involved in extracurricular activities.

“I think Madison is stepping over the line,'' Riley-Collins said. “I think it opens schools to costly litigation if a student decides to challenge that because it doesn't pass constitutional muster.''

“First, we should do no harm,'' she said. “To force a student to defend their innocence in the absence of wrong-doing, that's harmful.''

But the costs associated with drug testing are necessary, Dear said. “If we can help get kids off drugs, it's well spent,'' she said.

“This is an epidemic right now with our teenagers.''