Archive for January 3, 2007

Another Reason To Home School

January 3, 2007

This probably won’t bother many folks, but I think it’s interesting:

Sophomore Josh Reeves arrived at Gulf Shores High on a routine morning and was quickly summoned to the office. Once there, Reeves learned he must immediately provide a urine sample as part of the school’s random drug-testing policy. Reeves — a fullback on the Dolphins’ football team and an infielder on the baseball team — stepped into the restroom and returned to class minutes later.

“I like it because it keeps everybody straight,” Reeves said of the testing procedure. “It really didn’t matter to me. The kids that don’t do drugs don’t care about it, because they know they’re not going to get into trouble. The kids that do do drugs, they don’t like it because they will get in trouble.”

There’s also a third group of people, like myself, who really resent being treated as a criminal despite the absence of any individualized evidence, or even suspicion, that they’ve done anything wrong. Unless the authorities – in this case the school – have some concrete evidence that a particular person has violated a clear rule, then the authorities ought to be required to leave that particualr person the heck alone.

But those of us who place a high value on individual freedom and dignity have already lost the battle over school drug testing. Scotus has upheld random drug tests in schools: Vernonia School Dist. 47j v. Acton upheld tests for athletes and Board of Education v. Earls upheld random tests for students involved in any extra-curricular activities.

Both cases reasoned that because school students are already subjected to thorough control and the tests were used in a very limited manner, the tests were reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. Justice Scalia, writing in Vernonia:

Central, in our view, to the present case is the fact that the subjects of the Policy are (1) children, who (2) have been committed to the temporary custody of the State as schoolmaster.

Traditionally at common law, and still today, unemancipated minors lack some of the most fundamental rights of self determination–including even the right of liberty in its narrow sense, the right to come and go at will. They are subject, even as to their physical freedom, to the control of their parents or guardians. See 59 Am.Jur. 2d §10 (1987). When parents place minor children in private schools for their education, the teachers and administrators of those schools stand in loco parentis over the children entrusted to them. In fact, the tutor or schoolmaster is the very prototype of that status. As Blackstone describes it, a parent “may . . . delegate part of his parental authority, during his life, to the tutor or schoolmaster of his child; who is then in loco parentis, and has such a portion of the power of the parent committed to his charge, viz. that of restraint and correction, as may be necessary to answer the purposes for which he is employed.” 1 W. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England 441 (1769). . . .

Having considered the scope of the legitimate expectation of privacy at issue here, we turn next to the character of the intrusion that is complained of. We recognized in Skinner that collecting the samples for urinalysis intrudes upon “an excretory function traditionally shielded by great privacy.” Skinner, 489 U. S., at 626. We noted, however, that the degree of intrusion depends upon the manner in which production of the urine sample is monitored. Ibid. Under the District’s Policy, male students produce samples at a urinal along a wall. They remain fully clothed and are only observed from behind, if at all. Female students produce samples in an enclosed stall, with a female monitor standing outside listening only for sounds of tampering. These conditions are nearly identical to those typically encountered in public restrooms, which men, women, and especially school children use daily. Under such conditions, the privacy interests compromised by the process of obtaining the urine sample are in our view negligible.

The other privacy invasive aspect of urinalysis is, of course, the information it discloses concerning the state of the subject’s body, and the materials he has ingested. In this regard it is significant that the tests at issue here look only for drugs, and not for whether the student is, for example, epileptic, pregnant, or diabetic. See Skinner, supra, at 617. Moreover, the drugs for which the samples are screened are standard, and do not vary according to the identity of the student. And finally, the results of the tests are disclosed only to a limited class of school personnel who have a need to know; and they are not turned over to law enforcement authorities or used for any internal disciplinary function.

It sounds like the Baldwin policy is in accord with these Scotus cases. The tests are completely private, the results are not included with the student’s academic record, and then they are destroyed upon graduation. Most importantly, there is no invlovement of law enforcement.

Each student is given a unique, computer-generated number that is different from his Social Security number — a safeguard that Assistant Superintendent Terry Knight said is intended to guard against identity theft. A computer program at EDPM randomly selects the numbers. The student’s unique number — not the student’s name — is attached to the sample. “No one at the lab knows the identity of the urine sample,” Ash said.

Ash said urine samples are the most reliable form of drug testing, as opposed to blood tests or hair samples. Students being tested go into a restroom stall and provide a urine sample, Ash said, and a trained technician then takes the specimen. The urine is then divided and sealed into an A sample and a B sample. The A sample is sent to one of 61 federally approved labs for the drug screening. Ash said that the gas mass spectrometry test used to confirm results is accurate in its findings to one in 10 million.

If a test comes back positive, the student’s parent is contacted. The student is not affected by a positive result if he is taking over-the-counter or prescription medication that explains the test outcome. If a parent disputes the positive test, the B sample will be sent to a separate lab and tested with the same meticulous method. “This is designed to give the student maximum protection,” Ash said.

Drug-testing records are not attached to the student’s academic transcript, and are destroyed when the student graduates, Knight said. “We shred all of those records, and all that will be erased from the computer bank once they leave high school,” he said. “It doesn’t affect their grades in any way. The only thing it will affect is their extracurricular activities and driving. … Law enforcement will not be involved in any way.”

I can live with this. Don’t like it. Think it teaches kids they belong to the state, rather than the reverse. But I can live with it.