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Drug Testing: Pass or Fail?

John Anastasio, Moderator: Has anybody here had any experience of being in class with someone who might have been under the influence? Has it distracted you?

Kate Murphy: Well, I know I've been in class with people who were drunk and/or high. It hasn't really been much of a distraction. I mean, they're there, you ignore them. If they do something ridiculous, the teacher will kick them out of class or something. I mean, it wasn't, like, harmful to my learning experience or anything.

Patrick Meyer: Going along with what Kate said, I have found that I've been in class, and people have been obviously on drugs. And they behave the same way that someone would if they didn't get enough sleep. It's not distracting at all. They sit in the back, they don't make a fuss, they don't say anything. So it's more detrimental to their experience than to mine.

John: In one of the scenes in the film, one of the girls mentions, I believe, that she could smell the person in front of her and know that they had been using a drug. Has anybody noticed that? Can you do that? I thought it rather odd that they could smell it, unless it was something that was obviously smokable.

Stephanie Leon: Well, I had one kid in my class that was abusing cough syrup, and cough syrup smells like cherries, so I could smell it. And that was a big distraction, because, I guess when you're on cough syrup, I don't know, he was really disruptive.

John: Well, you've mentioned that you've known that people have been under the influence of one drug or another in your class. So I will assume that you all feel — or do you all feel — that there is a problem with drugs in your school?

Matt Harcarik: I've never had an experience with any of the drugs here. I've heard the rumors that Central is a big drug school, but I've never seen anyone using drugs. I've never actually seen drugs on the campus, and even though I've heard stories about it, I've never seen it with my eyes, and this leads me to believe that more of it is rumor than is actually truth. I feel that maybe the rumor's taken over and there's not really a lot of truth going around at Central.

Kate: I have to disagree with a lot of what Matt said. I know there's a lot of drug use at this school, but I'm not sure whether drug testing is going to help that problem. There's so many people that do drugs, and I think we only test ten percent of the kids, so the people that do do drugs figure that their chances of getting caught are minimal, and they don't stop doing drugs.

John: That was going to be my next question, if, in your opinion, drug testing is a deterrent? Does it prevent substance abuse? Has it worked here at all? Would it have worked, had it been as successful as they thought it was going to be in Texas?

Students: Random drug testing?

John: There was a difference, wasn't there? Explain the difference to the folks who haven't seen the film yet.

Ryan Cahalan: The drug testing procedure that took place at Lockney High was that all the students had their names called and were mandatorily drug tested, given urinalysis, which is also different from Hunterdon, where they give you a mouth swab drug test. And after that, they said they had a bingo raffle, which is more similar to how Hunterdon Central drug-tests students. But still, here at Hunterdon Central, you have to be in a sports club or an after-school club, or have a parking spot... Basically any privilege you have other than attending, you know, regular classes, can make you eligible for randomized testing, whereas at Lockney it was anyone.

Kate: Wouldn't that be kind of self-defeating, too, because the students that really do have problems, you usually don't see them participating in after-school clubs? Except for the seniors that have the parking spots. I mean, wouldn't the point be to get these kids and help these kids when they're freshmen, or very young, or just getting into the drugs? There's a few drug users that have parking spots, and they might get tested, but you're only targeting a small percentage of the problem.

John: Kate's thrown out a good one there, and that is the challenge to you all to come up with what you think might work. And what kind of education, what kind of messages have you gotten? Do you think it's been adequate? Do you know too much about it?

Matt: I feel that the drug education here has definitely been adequate. I've definitely been educated over all four years here about drugs and the effects of drugs and the dangers and everything else about them. But as to what Kate said before about the drug testing policy, and how the drug users are the ones who are not participating, I feel that even if it's a random drug test, it's more of a deterrent. Even the chance of getting caught, it may be slim, but there's still that possibility that if you want to join a sport, or have a parking spot your senior year, it's that deterrent that's going to make you stop. And if you really want it that badly, and it may sound somewhat odd, if you want that club position really badly or anything like that, it's just a deterrent, and it's supposed to help kids, and not so much invade their privacy.

Stephanie: I agree with Matt. Doing nothing is basically condoning it, I think. And there's only so much you can do in terms of education. We know all the risks, and stuff like that, and kids still choose to do it. The honesty policy doesn't work, unfortunately, with kids. People lie. People say they're not on drugs when they are. Since the honesty policy doesn't work, I think the next step is drug testing, whether it be random or mandatory. I don't know which one would be better. But I think that at the least it should be random drug testing, just because it shows the kids that you care. Both for the kids that are on drugs, and are maybe using it as a call for help, and for the kids that aren't on drugs, and feel like their education is being compromised because they have to sit in class with people that are on drugs.

Kate: On the contrary, I've never heard a single kid say, 'I'm not going to smoke pot this weekend because I'm afraid of getting drug tested.' I heard kids talking about it when they first introduced the program, but everybody forgot about it within a couple of weeks. Instead, what we need to do is — you can tell what kids are having problems with drugs, because their grades are dropping off, or because of the way they're acting. I think the kid who might smoke weed once or twice a year isn't so much the problem as the kids that really are having problems, and you're not going to find them by randomly testing kids. You need to find who's got the problem and help them, instead of punishing them.

Patrick: I feel that one of the major downfalls of the drug education at Hunterdon Central, and I'm sure it's pretty similar in high schools around America, is that a lot of their big thrust is 'Say No.' It's almost like a taboo, like drugs are this whole realm which no human may traverse. I don't think that's a very healthy way to approach it, because when kids do experiment with drugs, and teenagers will experiment with drugs, the whole teenage attitude is rebellion and disobeying parents and figures of authority. So it creates this guilt trip. So it's almost like teenagers are going to experiment with drugs to parody or cliché the things that they learned in health class, or from their parents. So I think a more comprehensive and less dated, and more reality-based education on drugs would probably be a lot more beneficial. Almost like the criminal law class. They bring in criminals to speak with them, like one-on-one, it's like an interactive experience. So I think something along those lines would be a lot more beneficial.

Jackie McMahon: I certainly don't see the new policy as a deterrent at all. First, because of the procedure. It's using a cotton swab, which detects, I think, drug use within how many hours? For, I mean, the past day. Most kids are doing their drug use over the weekend, and with a urinary test, a urine test, you can detect it from far back, you know? The drug user who really likes drugs and really loves to do them, first of all, isn't going to join a club, because they're smarter than that, so I just don't understand how it could even deter the kids with the problem.

John: Larry Tannahill himself says, "There are times when we need to use a firm hand, but we do not need to rule with an iron fist. Our children deserve the respect that we ourselves should have. Earning respect does not mean peeing in a cup." Do you think that the drug testing that went on there, and the drug testing that goes on here, is disrespectful to young people?

Kate: I remember when we were watching the video, the one girl was speaking into the camera, about how she felt humiliated by having to pee in a cup. I think the drug testing, it kind of accuses everyone of being on drugs, and it's like, 'Now we're going to test you, just to prove that you are on drugs.' That's the kind of attitude that it appears to me to take, and I think rather than targeting everyone we need to focus on the real problems.

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