In late April, three Northeast Ohio catholic schools — St. Ignatius, St. Ed's and Gilmour Academy — announced new mandatory drug testing for students. Incidentally, as we first reported, the president of the company selected to administer those tests, Psychemedics, is the brother of the president at St. Ed's and an Ignatius grad himself.
While parents and the community debate the program, so too do the students.
Below is an op-ed written by Benjamin Seeley, a senior at St. Ignatius and editor of the opinion page at the school's newspaper, The Eye. Seeley's op-ed was not published by The Eye, however — it was spiked by Ignatius officials, deemed "too seditious," as Seeley says, despite opposition from faculty moderator Mark Pecot and editor Alastair Pearson — so we're publishing it here.
His arguments: Alcohol is a far bigger problem among students, and pot is far less dangerous than alcohol; the school failed to communicate with the students directly, rather issuing statements to the media and writing letters to parents; drug testing has failed as a deterrent to student drug use. Do read.
A Contemptibly Misguided Attempt at Reform, by Benjamin Seeley
Each year begins on a similar note: at orientation we hear the same spiel about drugs and alco-hol (as undeniably we should), punctuated by Dean of Students Mr. Hennessey's dismay toward alcohol's status as the Ignatian drug of choice—which is, again, an undeniable truth.
Certainly one would conclude that the remedy to such a reality would be an effort targeted directly at curbing alcohol abuse. But instead, the administration has decided to drug-test the student body, which given the recent rise in heroin and opiate abuse around Northeast Ohio seems, on the surface, sensible.
Yet only on the surface. Recall that our school's most pressing issue isn't opiates, but alcohol. So, in a move that appears to contradict logic, the school has launched an offensive that will simply turn former drug users onto undetectable substances—namely alcohol. Although little research exists on whether drug testing increases alcohol consumption, common sense indicates we should expect grave consequences from the looming spike in drinking.
But alcohol's nationwide legality must signify its standing as a preferable—albeit undesirable—substitute to drugs, right? Well, yes and no; it depends on what drugs we're talking.
A study released in December by UC San Diego and the University of Pittsburgh comparing the effects of alcohol and marijuana on the adolescent brain found that teens who reported having consumed as few as five drinks per week were found to have less healthy brain tissue, which can manifest itself in stifled attention-span, memory, and decision-making. And what about those using marijuana, the thought-to-be next healthiest drug (or rather, least worst drug)? Contrary to what the school's policy would have you believe, there was no harm found at all.
I’m not asserting that the school believes marijuana's risks to health are tantamount to those of heroin. The school, of course, isn’t claiming that. The point is that in some ways the policy will actually exacerbate the status quo by leading to abuse of far more dangerous substances.
There's no refuting that kids using heroin or opiates need to be offered help, but there's also no refuting that the number of those kids pales next to those indulging in the markedly less hazardous substances like marijuana. So by pushing marijuana users to alcohol, the school has just counterintuitively placed students at risk. But increased drinking is only a fraction of the problem.
Ironically, research shows that mandatory random drug testing, which constitutes the entirety of the Welfare Initiative’s timeframe following the initial testing, isn't even remotely effective at combatting drug use. A study by the University of Pennsylvania Annenberg Public Policy Center found that instituting mandatory random drug tests in high schools had no impact on student drug use for males (and a negligible one for females) and that the testing worked only to further the divide between administration and student.
We have to ask whether or not the administration failed, either consciously or negligently, to ex-amine all available evidence before launching the program. I suppose getting students off drugs for the three months before testing begins is a defensible end, but the demonstrably ineffective policy itself is an unequivocal mistake.
Which brings up the school. You see, the school should not assume responsibility for student health; that is the place of parents. The initiative shows signs of noble intent, but it wasn't necessary in the first place. If the school is concerned about drugs, and feels oversight is the only solution, it should recommend parents themselves administer the tests.
What’s more, the legal ramifications of testing are more serious than the administration has let on. The school’s goal of confidentiality may actually deceive those who test positive, as the ad-ministration admits: the test results may spread beyond the student, parents, and counselor. For if the student later finds himself in legal trouble, a judge could legally subpoena the results and legally use that evidence against him. Perhaps the tests aren't harmless after all.
Consider the violations of personal privacy. If the school has to go out of its way to identify these people, what verifiable harm have the "offenders" committed? The point of drug testing should be to aid victims of indisputably drug-induced complications, not to bring users to the school's notion of justice—even if that justice isn't punitive. The school forgets that a good-natured goal doesn't rule out the possibility that the goal’s enforcement is a breach of basic liberties.
Encroachments on privacy aside, the costs of such a wide-ranging operation ought to be examined. At a conservative estimate of $30 per student, upwards of $45,000 will have been spent on drug tests in toto—fifty grand that could have supported financial aid, renovations to the school, or, quite fittingly, drug education.
What's perhaps most unsettling about the issue is the idea that in the face of a body of evidence against drug testing, the school opted to do so anyway. It just doesn't make much sense that we, Gilmour Academy, and St. Edward would sign on to a plan as misguided as this one. Or maybe it does.
In case you didn't hear: the head of Psychemedics—the organization conducting the drug test—is none other than the brother of one St. Edward High School President James Kubacki. And not only that, but CEO Ray Kubacki is a Saint Ignatius graduate.
Of course, this is in no way to accuse St. Ignatius (or St. Ed's) of indubitable wrongdoing, but the fact remains that the closeness of the relationships is troubling. And considering that silence with students has become a sort of trend for issues uncomfortable to the administration, I think a cogent response delivered to the student body itself is in order, and not one sent secondhand through emails to parents or statements to the media. Though the administration has been vocal about the policy with the Plain Dealer, the fact of the matter is that students are the ones affected by the policy, and students are the ones owed an adequate defense.
As the evidence makes readily apparent, there's little rationale for school-wide drug testing. Because opiates lag far behind drugs like alcohol and marijuana among St. Ignatius students, it's not unreasonable to suspect that opiate abuse was a pretext for the testing. The case has become such that we have reason to be legitimately skeptical of our administration’s intentions, and a lack of communication with students isn’t helping. Furthermore, I have a call to rising students of St. Ignatius, St. Edward, and Gilmour Academy alike that I, as a graduating senior incapable of assisting directly, hope to see put into action by all of you next year:
Demand that the school offer worthy explanations to you for their choice of drug-tester, and a response to why substantive pieces of evidence against drug testing were ultimately tossed out.
By taking a stand, as collective student bodies, against the injustices our administrations have pressed upon you, you refuse to be made pawns of a system and refuse to be disrespected by your purported leaders. The schools owe you proper explanations, and until you get those you oughtn’t be following the school blindly.
Stay strong, students.