One of the few complaints, he says, is that athletes feel they are being singled out and that all students should be randomly tested.
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The voluntary nature of the program has taken the steam out of would-be objectors, Hamro says. Samples are collected by an outside lab and the results shared with the student's parents — not school officials. Students with positive results are not punished.
"We took a tack of how can we do this where there are no privacy issues and yet it's a powerful tool to dissuade kids from using," he says. "It's invisible to the administration, but it's very visible to the kids."
At San Clemente High School, just over half of the school's 3,100 students are enrolled. Students testing positive are referred to either fee-for-service or free counseling, including confidential counseling on campus.
A survey conducted of 2,500 students at the high school last year showed the program is having an effect, Hamro says. Almost 60% of the students said the decision on whether or not to enroll in the program prompted a discussion at home about substance abuse. Almost 60% of the students said that the program should continue and 48% said it made it easier for them to avoid using drugs. Just over one-quarter said testing had reduced their frequency of drug use.
The study will be published in June in the American School Board Journal.
Even those who disagree about the merits of school-based drug testing agree that more research should be done to evaluate whether the programs reduce drug use and help students who are caught using.
"There are these two sides and they can argue until they are blue in the face," says Taras. "But until you study it, you can't really say anything about it."
Schools, however, may not wait for academia to weigh in, especially if the federal government extends money for testing programs.
"I actually believe that what you'll see is a rapid adoption of this," says Walters. "In a relatively short period of time we're going to look back and say 'Why did it take us so long to do this?' This is safe and it's enormously powerful."
Screening varies from school to school
Schools vary widely in how they conduct drug testing.
Deciding when and whom to test: Some schools only test students when there is a suspicion of drug use. A growing number, however, utilize random, "suspicionless" testing of a large group of students. In some schools, only students who volunteer for the program and whose parents consent are tested. Other schools screen all students who wish to participate in extracurricular activities, such as sports and clubs.
How testing is conducted: Some schools purchase tests kits and make them available to parents. Other schools use outside testing labs to randomly select students, conduct the tests and report back only to parents — barring school personnel from learning the results. In still other places, school personnel gather samples, send the results to labs for assessment and receive the results back at school. School officials then contact parents.