[ OUR OPINION ]
DRUG abuse is a disturbing problem in Hawaii's public schools, but mandatory drug testing proposed by Senate President Robert Bunda would only aggravate the problem while stripping away students' privacy rights. Schools should improve and expand drug prevention programs rather than engage in intrusive searches.
is not the solution
to teen drug abuse
THE ISSUESenate President Robert Bunda has called for drug testing of students in Hawaii's public schools.
Drug tests are included under Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches. Under that standard, probable cause is required before searches can be executed. Students don't give up their constitutional rights when they enter school doors, although school officials' responsibility to protect their health and safety somewhat lessen that protection.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1995 that public schools could randomly test student athletes because they often are role models for other students. Last year, the high court, emphasizing schools' "custodial responsibilities," extended the scope of suspicionless testing, upholding an Oklahoma district's requirement that middle and high school students pass drug tests in order to participate in any extracurricular activities, including band, choir and the debate team. School-wide random searches may logically follow, although such legal authority does not yet exist.
Approval of drug-testing in schools by the federal courts also does not necessarily mean Hawaii's Supreme Court will agree. The state's high court historically has provided greater privacy protection than that guaranteed by federal courts.
Adopting a drug-testing program that would conform to federal court-approved parameters would discourage some students from participating in such activities. Sports and other extracurricular activities motivate students to refrain from using drugs and create peer pressure to be drug-free. The best way to discourage drug use by students is to encourage their participation in such activities.
Bunda called for a "pilot program" of mandatory random testing but did not expand on his proposal. Students, even athletes, in Hawaii's public schools have not been subjected to random searches.
Elsewhere in the country, surveys have shown about 5 percent of schools have performed drug tests on student athletes and 2 percent have tested students in other after-school activities. Part of the reason for the low percentages may be the expense; drug-testing kits cost $30 to $60 per individual.
Bunda and other legislators should be concerned about drug abuse by young people. A recent survey indicated that half the high school seniors and a third of sophomores had tried marijuana, the drug most easily detectable in tests. School drug-testing could cause students to use more dangerous and less detectable drugs such as crystal methamphetamine and the amphetamine-based hallucinogen Ecstasy, which already are major problems in Hawaii.
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