Interview with Superintendent Harrison on the recent announcement of random drug and alcohol testing at BGISD

4th-amendment

Interview on BGISD’s new policy of random drug testing for 7-12 grade students.

 

The recent announcement of a new policy at Blooming Grove ISD, effective Fall 2015, requiring the mandatory participation in random drug and alcohol testing by all students in grades 7-12 who participate in any extracurricular activity or who park on campus, has been the cause of serious concern for many parents and students and praised by others. An article was recently written  on the subject which has sparked a lively debate between concerned citizens on both sides of the issue. The crux of the debate being whether a measure of “perceived safety” trumps parental and children’s rights to privacy, as afforded in the 4th Amendment of the US Constitution. Although recent rulings in the federal and state supreme courts have paved the way for the legality of the new policy, many questions remain.

Marshall Harrison, the recently appointed Superintendent for Blooming Grove ISD, graciously agreed to be interviewed on the subject by answering several of those questions and concerns that are being aired.

 

 

Q: Is this new policy something that you suggested to the board, or did the board ask you to implement the policy?

A: As with all school policies, the board and the Superintendent work together as a Team of ‘8’.  The process is as follows, the Superintendent or administration recommends a policy for implementation within the district.  Next, at a duly called board meeting, the board considers the policy, and then takes action on whether or not to implement the policy.

 

Q: Is the policy one that you have implemented as an administrator in other schools? If so, what was the effect that such a policy  had on the student body, in your opinion?

A: Yes, this is similar to the policy that the district I previously worked in implemented and is still in place.  The effects on the student body were positive, due to the fact that the policy decreased negative peer pressure and gave students a reason to say ‘no’.

 

Q: What does the board hope to achieve by implementing the new policy? Will there be an analysis of current drug use to be used as a baseline, with documented follow up analysis to determine the effect of the policy?

A: By implementing the policy, the board and the administration strive to achieve a safe school environment, while at the same time decreasing the negative peer pressure students are faced with.  Also, we strive to educate students on the dangers of drug use and to provide drug counseling to students who test positive, as explained in the policy. Please take the time to read the Blooming Grove ISD Random Drug and Alcohol Testing Program Policy that can be obtained by going to bgisd.org.  The policy is located on the front of the web page.    We will be testing 5 times throughout the school year and will use that as a baseline to reconsider the policy for the 2016-2017 school year.  The ultimate goal is to have no students or a small % of students who test positive and to provide an overall drug free environment for the students of Blooming Grove.

 

Q: One parent wrote, “The mentality that “if you have nothing to hide, you should have no problem with submitting to this”, is a slippery slope in which we can hand over our Constitutional rights to prove we’ve done nothing wrong when there was no reasonable suspicion for the “search” to begin with.” What would you say to her comment?

A: First of all, this is not the mentality regarding this policy.  The district’s overall goal is to promote a safe school environment that encourages positive student behavior and to also decrease the amount of negative peer pressure that students receive.  Once again, we are not infringing upon Constitutional rights, as extracurricular activities are not a right in the educational setting, they are a privilege.  The right of the student is to be educated and that is not being removed in any form or fashion.

 

Q: (JSH) How will this be paid for? What company will be used? Who decides this? What type of test? What is in place to help our students who test positive? What punishment is in place for positive results?

A: The overall testing program is $5,000 a year and will be paid for with General Revenue.  The company that we will be using is Compliance Consortium Corporation located in Belton, TX.  This company currently does our required “DOT” drug testing on our bus drivers. The remaining questions are answered within the Blooming Grove ISD Random Drug and Alcohol Testing Program Policy that can be obtained by going to bgisd.org.  The policy can be found on the front of the web page.

 

Q: (BB) Why will only kids that are involved with sports, band, etc. be tested? All the kids should be tested. It shouldn’t just be if a child belongs to something of the UIL sort. I’ve heard of plenty children that are headed down the wrong path that aren’t involved with anything. Shouldn’t they be tested also?

A: The courts have only given the schools the authority to drug test students who are involved in extracurricular activities, due to the fact that extracurricular participation is a privilege, not a right of education.  However, contained within the policy is the fact that if a student is not involved in extracurricular activities, the parents can choose to have their child drug tested by signing the consent form.

 

Q: (CTK) Why do we need this NOW? We made it through several drug laced eras of history and now things are so dangerous as to justify the privacy and other risks of the new policy?

A: This type of policy is not new to school districts in the state of Texas.  As the school Superintendent and Board of Trustees is it our goal to look at the overall environment of the school district.  If a necessity or concern arises that needs to be addressed, then it is prudent for the team of ‘8’ to explore these issues completely.  We do not have the luxury of choosing the topics we want to address.  It is our responsibility to investigate all issues that arise within the school district.

 

Q: (CTK) What evidence do you have that establishes that the trend in increased use is indeed upward? If not, why now?

A: My evidence is based on the fact that the board, when the policy was brought up for adoption, believed that drugs are currently an issue within our school district.  As the Superintendent I rely on the knowledge of the Board of Trustees regarding their community.  This is why the policy was drafted, considered, and approved. Our goal is to test 5 times during the school year to have a basis for making decisions on what is best for the students.  As stated earlier, if our testing results from this coming school year show a small % of positive results, then we can say without hesitation that we have a drug free environment within our district.

 

Q: (CTK) Why not test people who show probable cause as we generally do in our democracy?

A: We will be testing those students as well, if the administration believes probable cause then we will test.

 

Q: (CTK) How much can one justify with “safety?” Why not do even more? Test teachers randomly? Do random searches of houses. Allow cops to search hard drives of the school computers randomly, etc.?

A: Employees of the district that drive a bus for any reason are required to participate in random drug testing. The employees are instructed each year and understand that any property belonging to the school district, including the computers are subject to a search at any time.  Also, the school district currently has a computer system that monitors all computer activity within the district.

 

Q: Some parents have expressed their feeling that the new policy is an infringement of parental and children’s rights. One parent commented, “There is “no infringement on your rights” when basically forced to “consent” or else? What kind of choice is that? You can either sign away your parental rights and your children’s’ rights OR your children can be second-class citizens at school that can do nothing but sit in class and then take a taxi home. The “choice” left to the parents who don’t believe in the program is to “leave school,” not taking their tax dollars with them, of course. Seems like I remember a famous Tea Party being fought over a similar issue.” What would you say to parents who feel this way?

A: As stated earlier, extracurricular participation is a privilege of the school system, therefore it is not a right of the educational system. The school district provides the opportunity for students to participate in extracurricular activities.  No one is asking a parent to sign over parental rights.  You as a parent have a choice to consent to the policy, so your child can have the privilege to participate in extracurricular activities.  There is not one place in the policy that allows your child’s educational rights to be taken away from them, as the academic education is the right, not the extracurricular activity.  As a parent you have the right to take your child to any school you choose.

 

Q: Below is an article that argues against the validity of such programs. Any thoughts or comments on the article that you would care to share with us?

A: My comments regarding the following article would be my personal opinion. My opinion should not be the basis on whether or not to implement a drug testing policy.  My opinion is mine, not that of the school district.  I support the policy and will enforce it as adopted by the Blooming Grove ISD Board of Trustees.

 

“Dangerous Lessons”

The Supreme Court’s ruling giving public school authorities the green light to conduct random, suspicionless, drug testing of all junior and senior high school students wishing to participate in extra-curricular activities, teaches by example. The lesson, unfortunately, is that the Fourth Amendment has become a historical artifact, a quaint relic from bygone days when our country honored the “scrupulous protection of Constitutional freedoms of the individual.” (See West Virginia State Bd. of Ed. v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624, 637 (1943)).

The Court’s ruling turns logic on its head, giving the insides of students’ bodies less protection than the insides of their backpacks, the contents of their bodily fluids less protection than the contents of their telephone calls. The decision elevates the myopic hysteria of a preposterous “zero-tolerance” drug war, over basic values such as respect and dignity for our nation’s young people.

The Court’s ruling treats America’s teenage students like suspects. If a student seeks to participate in after school activities his or her urine can be taken and tested for any reason, or for no reason at all. Gone are any requirements for individualized suspicion. Trust and respect have been replaced with a generalized distrust, an accusatory authoritarian demand that students prove their “innocence” at the whim of the schoolmaster.

The majority reasoned that requiring students to yield up their urine for examination as a prerequisite to participating in extracurricular activities would serve as a deterrent to drug use. The Court reasoned that students who seek to join the debate team, write for that the student newspaper, play in the marching band or participate in any other after school activities knowing that their urine will be tested for drugs, would be dissuaded from using drugs.

While some students may indeed be deterred from using drugs, the conventional wisdom (supported by empirical data) is that students who participate in extracurricular activities are some of the least likely to use drugs. Noting this, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose dissenting opinion was joined by Justices Stevens, O’Connor and Souter, harshly condemned random testing of such students as “unreasonable, capricious and even perverse.”

Even when applied to students who do use drugs, the Court’s decision merely makes matters worse.

The federal government has tried everything from threatening imprisonment to yanking student loans, to spending hundreds of millions of dollars on “just say no” advertisements, and still, some students continue to experiment with marijuana and other drugs. Like it or not, some students will use illegal drugs before graduating from high school, just as some students will have sex. Perhaps it’s time to rethink the wisdom of declaring a “war on drugs” and adopt instead a realistic and effective strategy more akin to safe-sex education.

Ultimately, if a student does choose to experiment with an illegal drug (or a legal drug like alcohol), I suspect that many parents, like myself, would prefer that their child be taught the skills necessary to survive the experiment with as little harm as possible to self or others. The D.A.R.E. program, the nation’s primary “drug education” curriculum, is taught by police officers not drug experts, and is centered on intimidation and threats of criminal prosecution rather than on harm reduction. Random, suspicionless, urine testing fits the same tired mold.

Among the significant gaps in the majority’s reasoning is its failure to consider the individual and social ramifications of deterring any student (whether they use drugs or not), from participating in after school activities. Students who on principle prefer to keep their bodily fluids to themselves, or who consider urine testing to be a gross invasion of privacy, will be dissuaded from participating in after-school activities altogether. Similarly, students who do use drugs and who either test positive or forego the test for fear of what it might reveal, will be banned from after-school activities and thus left to their own devices.

Extracurricular programs are valued for producing “well-rounded” students. Many adults look back on their extramural activities as some of the most educational, enriching, and formative experiences of their young lives. Extracurricular programs build citizenship, and for many universities participation in after school clubs and academic teams is a decisive admissions criterion. Whether a student uses drugs or not, it makes no sense to bar them from the very activities that build citizenship, and which help prepare young people for leadership roles in the workforce, or which help them get into college. In other words, a policy that deters students or bans them outright from participating in extracurricular activities is not just bad for students; it’s bad for society.

Aside from eviscerating the Fourth Amendment rights of the nation’s 23 million public school students and imposing a punishment that harms society as much at it harms students, the decision foreshadows a constitutional Dark Ages. When a young person is told to urinate in a cup within earshot of an intently listening school authority, and then ordered to turn over her urine for chemical examination, what “reasonable expectation of privacy” remains? When today’s students graduate and walk out from behind the schoolhouse gates, what will become of society’s “reasonable expectation of privacy?”

Raised with the ever-present specter of coercion and control, where urine testing is as common as standardized testing, today’s students will have little if any privacy expectations when they reach adulthood. As a result, within a single generation, what society presently regards as a “reasonable expectation of privacy” will be considerably watered down. Rivers of urine will have eroded the Fourth Amendment, our nation’s strictest restraint on the over-reaching and strong-arm tendencies of some government police agents. As aptly stated by Justice Ginsburg and the three other justices who joined her dissenting opinion: “That [schools] are educating the young for citizenship is reason for scrupulous protection of Constitutional freedoms of the individual, if we are not to strangle the free mind at its source and teach youth to discount important principles of our government as mere platitudes.”

 

The US Government has just allocated another 19 billion dollars to fight the so-called “war on drugs,” yet all we really have to show for it is a tattered Constitution and the largest prison population in the history of the world. Fellow Americans have been constructed as “the enemy” simply because they’d rather have a puff of marijuana than a shot of bourbon.

 

And that is perhaps the greatest tragedy of the Court’s ruling. The decision not only victimizes our children, it makes them the enemy. Being a public school student is now synonymous with being a criminal suspect or a prisoner. The values of trust and respect have been chased from the schoolyards and replaced with baseless suspicion and omnipresent policing. The lesson for America’s students as they stand in line with urine bottles in hand, is that the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee is a broken promise, yesterday’s dusty trophy, worthy only of lip service.

 

The lesson for the rest of us is that the so-called “war on drugs” desperately needs rethinking.”

 

Richard Glen Boire is counsel for the Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics

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