Random Drug Testing

Drug Testing in Public Schools???

How it works and why it's working...

In the summer of 2006, the Scottsbluff Public School Board of Education approved polices for Random Student Drug Testing at Scottsbluff High School and Bluffs Middle School students. In 2014 the District also began voluntary inclusion of all high school students in the drug testing pool. Today almost all SHS freshmen, sophomores and juniors are in the pool either by virtue of their participation in activities or their parents' voluntary approval. Next year, assuming parent permission trends continue, we anticipate almost all high school students will be in the pool. All BMS students in activities are in the testing pool. Collectively, more than two of every three SBPS secondary school students are included.

Public school drug testing is becoming an increasingly common component of communities' efforts to curb underage use of illicit drugs. In fact, according to a 2015 study by the Center for Disease Control & Prevention, about 18 percent of all public high schools -- nearly 1 in 5 -- have mandatory drug testing policies.

Are they effective? The National Institute on Drug Abuse observes, "Because of the conflicting findings on student drug testing, more research is needed," and that "drug testing should never be undertaken as a stand-alone response to a drug problem." We agree. Drug testing is just one part of a multi-tiered anti-drug campaign.

Our own data is hopeful, but not conclusive, as well. The facts are that here in Scottsbluff, we have recorded "less than a handful" of positive tests in the middle school and high school combined. We see that as very encouraging and hope that the "possibility" of being called in for a drug test provides students the necessary "excuse" to say "no" to drugs. Additionally, because a positive test carries no disciplinary consequences and is kept extremely confidential, the tests provide an opportunity for parents of students who may be experimenting with drugs to get an early warning sign.

As reported in the 2014 Nebraska Risk and Protective Factor Student Survey of Scottsbluff youth, 34.1% of tenth graders and 42.6% of seniors admit to ever having smoked marijuana in their lives. A number of honesty measures are included in the survey to remove students who may not have given the most honest answers, so this data has relatively high credibility. With so few positive random tests occurring, we are hopeful that students are 1) not using during the months school is in session and 2) those that have tried marijuana have done so on a very limited basis. Additionally, the NRPFSS survey shows that there is a huge difference between the high perceived use of drugs and the much lower actual use. So, hopefully, the "stories" we may all hear are relatively isolated and, hopefully, exaggerated.

Here are some quick facts about Scottsbluff Public Schools' drug testing:

  • Ten students are tested per week at SHS with only 2% of the tests coming back positive.
  • Only two positive tests have ever come back positive at BMS.
  • Students who test positive do not receive disciplinary consequences. Their parents are told and drug tests are repeated, with parent permission, throughout the year.
  • The testing process is done confidentially, sensitively and privately. The locker room facilities are used for testing and the school office is not involved in the testing itself in any way.
  • UA's are done at the high school with mouth swabs at the middle school available upon request.

An important maxim regarding the testing is, "You don't measure the effectiveness of the drug testing program by how many students you catch. It's about how many students you help prevent from using." And, in that summation lies the challenge because, of course, we can never know how many students were stopped from even trying drugs because of the potential they'd be tested. Our intuition tells us that in today's world, with legalization of marijuana just a short drive away and adult drug use in this area at such a disturbingly high level, the relatively low positive tests and low incidence of use seem to be showing that we are all headed on the right track.