By LYDIA BERGLAR
In recent years, drug testing of Dade County students who are involved in extracurriculars has happened through two separate methods: Randomized testing funded by the Dade County Sheriff’s Office and regular testing paid for by families/teams. The former program was put on hold at the start of 2023 due to a lack of funding, but the latter continues as normal.
The randomized tests were funded by a portion of court fines that go to the Dade County Sheriff’s Office. DCSO then allocated these funds to the testing. The regular tests are through a local policy put in place by the Dade County Board of Education.
The matter came up at the July meeting of the Dade County Commission during discussion about funds for A Hand Up Ministry. Lamar Lowery, commissioner for District 1, tangentially mentioned that the randomized drug tests funded by DCSO had ceased.
Chief Deputy Tommy Bradford explained to the Sentinel, “Several years ago, we had the Drug Abuse Treatment Education (DATE) fund from fines paid to courts for people arrested for drug issues. That money was sitting there, so we got with the schools and talked about the program.”
This began monthly random testing of middle and high school students participating in extracurriculars. A third-party company sent student ID numbers to the schools, and the schools then coordinated the tests of 30 Dade County High School and 15 Dade Middle School students.
Occurring only when school was in session, these tests cost $20 per student, for a total of $900 per month and roughly $9,000 per year.
Results from tests went to parents and principals, not to the sheriff’s office. Bradford said, “The only thing we do is we provide the money and discuss the policy if the schools want to.”
He explained that failing a test for the first time led to suspension from the extracurricular activity, driving permit/license suspension, or another type of repercussion. Failing a test for the second time led to more serious intervention.
Test results that showed prescription medications such as Adderall were sent to the student’s doctor so the doctor and parent could confirm whether or not the student was supposed to have the medication.Bradford noticed that the DATE account was low after the COVID-19 era.
Unsure of an exact reason for this decrease, the sheriff’s office and courts speculate that various COVID-related changes may have caused the dip. Across Georgia, DATE accounts have been low.
Bradford talked with Superintendent Josh Ingle at the start of this year, reporting the lack of funds for the program, but recently, Bradford says, they are seeing a rise in the DATE account. He said, “Once the account gets back up, the testing is something we would like to continue. I would like to keep the account around $30,000. We’re trying to find the kids who really have issues and get them help before it gets out of hand.”
Regarding the regular testing, Ingle explained that all seventh through twelfth grade students in extracurriculars are tested at the beginning of each season. Students who participate in multiple extracurricular may be tested multiple times each year.
Ingle said that families pay for these tests, and sometimes a team budget may help cover costs. He said, “The goal is to help kids. The best way to help them is through education and getting the parents involved. If we do find a problem, we can have a conversation with the student and parents.”
After hearing reports that parents have a variety of opinions about the way drug tests are handled, the Sentinel attempted to hear from a number of parents of middle and high school students, but none responded.
According to Justia.com, “The Fourth Amendment does not allow public schools to conduct random drug testing across the entire student body. However, a school may randomly test students who participate in competitive extracurricular activities, such as athletics and the school band.”
The Fourth Amendment reads, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) posted several articles 21 years ago positing that drug tests do not decrease drug use, they interfere with students’ privacy, they may discourage participation in extracurriculars, and they may encourage students to use more dangerous drugs.
The article titled “Just Say No to Random Drug Testing: A Guide for Students” reads, “There is no concrete evidence that randomly drug testing students deters drug use. And it does not address the reasons why kids turn to drugs in the first place…Instead of putting up barriers like drug testing, schools should engage students in meaningful activities.”
The article titled “Why Student Drug Testing Does Not Work” reads, “This policy may encourage students to use more dangerous drugs to avoid detection. Because marijuana is the most easily detectable drug, students may use harder drugs or binge drink, creating greater health risks.”
However, the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance published a study in 2010 which both counteracted and supported ACLU’s statements. This study examined 36 high schools in 7 different states and involved 4,700 students.
The summary of the study reads, “Students involved in extracurricular activities and subject to in-school drug testing reported less substance use than comparable students in high schools without drug testing.”
Key findings contradicting the ACLU were:
- “Some 16 percent of students subject to drug testing reported using substances covered by their district’s testing in the past 30 days, compared with 22 percent of comparable students in schools without the program.”
- “There was no evidence that the drug testing reduced students’ participation in extracurricular activities or affected their connection to school.”
Key findings supporting the ACLU were:
- “There was no evidence of any ‘spillover effects’ to students who were not subject to testing—the percentage who reported using substances in the past month was the same at both treatment and control schools.”
- “There was no effect on any group of students’ reported intentions to use substances in the future. Of the students subject to drug testing, 34 percent reported that they ‘definitely will’ or ‘probably will’ use substances in the next 12 months, compared with 33 percent of comparable students in schools without the program.”
Although the ACLU articles are 21 years old and the NCEE study is 13 years old, they are comprehensive and readily available. However, discussion about the issue (with opinions and results falling across the board) can be found in various news, opinion, legal, and research sources.
As far as where Dade County’s leaders stand, the school board, sheriff’s office, and county commission are all in favor of testing students for drug use as permitted by law.