Bushland ISD in the Texas Panhandle has initiated a policy of testing students in middle and high school for drugs like marijuana, cocaine and alcohol. The ACLU and other civil liberties organizations worry about students’ privacy, and the punishments under the new policy.
Drug testing in the district had previously been limited to athletes, but the new policy includes any student who wants to participate in extracurricular activities, or who wants a parking pass. Failing a test would result in removal from any extracurricular activities and loss of parking privileges. Administrators say the district does not have a drug problem yet, but that the tests are a preventative measure.
Andrew Hairston is an attorney with Texas Appleseed, which describes itself as a nonprofit social justice organization. He is also the director of the organization’s school-to-prison pipeline project. He says Bushland ISD’s new drug testing policy is a violation of students’ privacy and is too invasive for what the district is trying to accomplish.
“[The tests] seem very invasive, could be up to 10 times a year, could take saliva samples from these young people,” Hairston says. “Just you know way too superfluous for the issue that the school district is trying to address.”
Hairston says that instead of stopping drug use, this new policy might push students into isolation and bad habits, if they do not have access to extracurricular activities or parking passes. He also says that the policy will push more students into the school-to-prison pipeline, because it criminalizes and punishes young people.
“The idea that substance abuse would be criminalized at all, or that it would be so heavily regulated and made into a punitive measure by the school district is concerning,” Hairston says.
Hairston says that the district needs to put more trust in students to come to adults and trained mental health professionals to talk about the problems they face outside of school. But a policy that punishes students instead of promoting an open conversational and safe culture means they won’t do it, and will push their efforts backward.
“Counselors, school psychologists and social workers can pay tremendous dividends for a culture of openness and communication between young people and the adults who are charged with their care,” Hairston says. “Then ultimately that will address some of these fundamental issues that are brought up this policy and others like it.”
Written by Marina Marquez.