There’s a community-wide conversation going on in Kansas City, Mo., that should also be taking place around the country. It has to do with high school kids’ use of drugs and alcohol. The discussion revolves around the question: How can adults adequately convince a teenager that drinking too soon or using narcotics can, literally, cost them their lives?
At Rockhurst High School in Kansas City, the Jesuit leadership has answered that question with, “You can’t.” You can’t fully convince or trust teens not to drink or experiment with drugs. So, later this year at the all-male Rockhurst High, they will begin to randomly drug test the student body by taking 60 hairs from the head of each teen.
This will be repeated every 90 days. One of the Rockhurst faculty members, someone with a background in barbering, will collect the sample hairs and send them out for testing. Lab techs will look for traces of marijuana, cocaine and other illegal drugs, as well as alcohol consumption.
Human hairs are sort of like tree rings, storing the residue from drugs and booze in the shaft of each strand. As the hair grows out, the pattern remains on the hair shaft, and lab techs can detect not only what substances a person has used, but how much of it and approximately when it was ingested. The longer the hair, the more information they can glean.
As shocking as it sounds — making it mandatory for a minor to give up part of themselves for scrutiny even though they may have done nothing wrong — this plan is not illegal because Rockhurst is a private school. When parents decide to enroll their sons at Rockhurst, they agree to abide by the six-page drug and alcohol policy of the 100-year-old Catholic school.
Public schools could never get away with plucking students’ head hairs and sending them out to labs for random testing because that would be classified as an “unreasonable search and seizure” under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Even the local ACLU legal director in Missouri can’t come up with a challenge to the Rockhurst plan, although Doug Bonney did tell the Kansas City Star he thought the idea was “a colossal waste of money.” By the way, the cost of each $50 test will be borne by fees collected from parents for student activities.
Gee, I remember when student fees went to pay for things like sock hops and field trips.
As you can imagine, there has been both applause and jeers for this get-tough drug-testing idea. On local Missouri websites reporting the story, reader comments offered a wide range of opinions.
Someone calling themselves Frank Frankly wrote: “It’s a private school, they can do what they want. If you don’t want your child to be subjected to it, then put them in public school.”
Mike Jensen agreed. “It’s not about infringement because there is a choice involved. The school is trying to ensure that its students receive a quality education and stay clean.”
But an emailer with the handle Dagmstr sees something more ominous afoot. “They start with the schools, then what’s the next step? Adults — maybe through the DMV (or) the Social Security program or Obamacare?”
And reader Metamax warned about the future threat to Rockhurst students who break the rules: “The parents had better give this a second thought, as this can come back and bite their kids later for college and jobs. False positives can be a one-way ticket to the court system and charges. Government abuse of rights starts just like this.”
I bothered to read the whole six-page policy, and it is not about calling in the cops or making a negative permanent record for the substance-using student. The school says information gathered under the program will stay within and never be disseminated to colleges or potential employers.
Rockhurst’s plan is a three-strikes policy, and positive test results are followed by a quiet confrontation between guidance counselor, parents and the offending teen. No disciplinary action is taken immediately, but the student must follow the school psychologist’s rehab recommendations. Only after the third strike will a student be dismissed permanently.
You know, when I first heard about this idea of randomly taking hairs from school kids for drug testing, I was aghast. I thought about my own daughter and what I would have done if her Catholic school had suddenly demanded access to her bodily samples. Back then, I surely would have balked. I might have reactively yanked her out of the school.
But now I realize if we really want to make sure our kids get the best education and the greatest leg up in this competitive life, why wouldn’t we want to keep them on the healthiest path possible? Isn’t it better to learn about a problem early on, rather than after it has been left to fester into a lifelong millstone?
Some will say this type of program diverts an important parental responsibility and hands it over to schools. I don’t agree. I think it includes schools into today’s very complicated business of raising good and healthy kids who will, hopefully, never be on the wrong side of the law.
At the very least, it has sparked a much-needed conversation that I hope spreads to every household with children — beginning tonight around the dinner table.