The Board of Education is pushing through a controversial policy without first thoroughly investigating the problem or allowing public debate. The effectiveness of Mandatory Random Drug Testing of high school students has been debunked in many studies and may not be the right plan for our region. We fear that students will experience these Random Drug Tests as a stressful and embarrassing invasion of privacy, undermining the spirit of collegiality and scholarship that both schools have long fostered.
The Board of Education of the Northern Valley School District in Bergen County, NJ is moving to draft and swiftly implement a policy that would impose Mandatory Random Drug Testing (MRDT) of all students who are: 1) involved in any extra-curricular activities, 2) participating in any after-school sports, or 3) parking on campus. This would include an estimated 80% of the students attending school in the district and could be implemented as early as the upcoming 2013–14 academic year.
Many parents, students, community members and public officials worry that MRDT is not the most effective way to reach out to kids with drug and alcohol problems and may create a climate of fear that will impact all students’ ability to learn and thrive. The town councils of two of the municipalities that send students to the district schools have enacted resolutions opposing the Board’s efforts to introduce MRDT.
We are concerned that the process by which the Board has formulated and advanced this policy is hasty, confusing, poorly documented and misleading. The superintendent and Board have made assertions about the scope of drug abuse in our area without documenting their claims—and some of these statements have proven to be erroneous.
In 2007 the Board considered and rejected MRDT, based on a study identifying the nature and scope of substance abuse in our district conducted by an independent, experienced survey organization. Why has no similar survey been commissioned at this time?
We question the wisdom of the Board’s decision to draft an MRDT policy without first having a solid and comprehensive understanding of the drug problem the plan is supposed to address. It also concerns us that the Board has not demonstrated that the district meets the New Jersey Supreme Court’s requirement that schools satisfy a special-needs test (including the demonstration of underlying drug and alcohol use) in order to justify random drug testing.
We are also dismayed that there has been little or no opportunity to debate and evaluate the pros and cons of the proposed drug testing policy. Although there are numerous studies that conclude that MRDT in high schools has limited or no benefit, the Board has failed to consider them or to present this information to the public.
We advocate for targeted assistance for youths at risk and for an improved drug education program (from middle school on) that will teach students about the dangers of drug use and the warning signs of addiction. We fear that the emphasis on MRDT as a means of preventing and reducing drug use will undermine and detract from these and other measures that have long track records of effectiveness.
Finally, we worry that students may experience MRDT as a humiliating, stressful and embarrassing invasion of their privacy and that the policy will undermine the spirit of collegiality and scholarship that our schools have long nurtured and championed.
Your signed petition will be delivered to the superintendent and the members of the Northern Valley Board of Education. We hope that the Board will choose to abandon MRDT and instead work with teachers, students, administrators, parents and others to carefully assess the nature and extent of student drug use and to craft a policy that will educate and help at-risk youth while continuing to promote academic excellence and fellowship.