By Gregory B. Hladky
5:15 PM EDT, August 13, 2013
Just outside Chicago, a private school recently decided to add mandatory testing of students for alcohol abuse to its existing six-year-old drug test policy. States like Texas, Illinois and New Jersey have laws governing drug tests for student athletes.
Nationally, estimates are that 14-16 percent of all schools in the U.S. do some sort of random student drug testing.
Connecticut has no statewide student dope test policy. And it doesn't look like it's going to get one soon despite concerns over teen abuse of marijuana, steroids and alcohol.
The high cost of testing is one key reason. Another involves doubts about how effective any random testing program might be in convincing kids not to do drugs.
"I don't know of any [Connecticut public schools] that do mandatory drug testing," says state House Republican Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr.
He says there is no Connecticut law governing testing of high school kids for drugs or alcohol, and Cafero rejects the idea that mandatory random testing is needed here.
"Students have individual rights and we need to be respectful of those rights," according to Cafero, whose non-legislative job deals with student drug abuse all the time.
Cafero is a hearing officer for kids threatened with expulsion from Norwalk's public school system. Like a lot of school systems, Cafero says Norwalk routinely offers drug testing as part of a disciplinary program for students facing expulsion for drug-related problems.
"If there is probable cause [of drug abuse], if they're disrupting the educational process," says Cafero, "then all bets are off."
Cafero says the key difference is that a student (or parent) who disagrees with a private school's drug test policy can always opt out and simply leave. "That's not the case in public education," he says.
You might think that would make drug testing a lot more common in private schools, but Matt Franz says you'd be wrong. Franz is director of Sport Safe Testing Service, a company that offers drug testing services to schools all over the country. "Of the 90 schools we do, only two are private," says Franz, and he has no clients at all in Connecticut.
There is also a big difference between testing for steroids and testing for other types of drugs. Franz points out a standard test for multiple types of illegal substances (like cocaine, marijuana and prescription drugs) costs $28-30 per test. A steroid test can run $100 per person tested.
How much impact these kinds of tests have on teen drug abuse is another concern. A U.S. Department of Education study published in 2010 found that a mandatory random drug testing program did result in somewhat lower drug use in high schools with such programs compared to schools without tests.
Cafero has been deciding school drug-related disciplinary cases for 21 years, and he has waves of different types of drug abuse rise and fall among teens. Right now, he says, "Use of marijuana is through the roof." Despite that, Cafero remains unconvinced of the need for broad mandatory drug testing.
"I don't think we're there yet," he says.
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