Security and its Discontents: Outlining efforts to ensure school safety — Drug Testing, Dog Searches, Metal Detectors

By Tim O’Shea
[wpfilebase tag=”file” id=1300]
Intro Essay
Resolved: In United States public K-12 schools, the probable cause standard ought to apply to searches of students.
The obvious central theme of the proposed September-October Public Forum topic is the nexus between personal rights and public safety.  In this case, the debate is focused on the school setting and when rights should be limited to ensure a broader social good.  
But another facet of the topic is the debate over whether or not the security measures in question even hold up their end of the bargain and ensure student safety.  While I will not be going over the links and warrants that either side of the resolution could use to garner these measures as offense, I will be describing the utility and possibilities of various school security measures that many have touted as either panaceas or flops in ensuring student safety.
Drug Testing
Student random drug testing has mainly been constitutionally upheld as either an opt-in program by a student’s parents or as an opt-in (Acton decision) if a student wishes to engage in extracurricular activities (Pottawatomie decision).  Students are chosen on a random basis to have their urine or hair tested for various illegal drugs.  There are various ways that this arguably disincentivizes drug use:

Peter Palanca.  “The Importance Of Drug Testing”.  Chicago Tribune.  1999.
Drug and alcohol use among teens continues to be a tremendous problem in schools across the country. Results of the 1998 University of Michigan Monitoring the Future Study show that 35 percent of all high school sophomores used drugs in 1998. Nearly 13 percent of 8th graders used drugs last year, and an additional 62 percent do not view smoking marijuana as a risky behavior.Drug testing can help reduce the number of teen users in three ways, including:
– Preventing some kids from experimenting with drugs.
– Identifying those who are experimenting with alcohol or other drugs, or who are struggling with the disease of addiction.
– Providing kids in recovery with an additional incentive to stay straight.
No one wants to deny teens a reasonable amount of privacy, just as no one wants to allow drug abuse to have free rein over our children. Given the recent episodes of violence in our nation’s schools, we must accept that the cost of living in a free society is often one of compromise.

Unfortunately, this hasn’t produced meaningful change in the usage rate in American schools:

Ryoko Yamaguchi, University of Michigan.  “The Relationship between Student Illicit Drug Use and School Drug-Testing Policies.”.  Journal of School Health.  2003.
Still, the question remains: does drug testing prevent or inhibit student drug use? Members of the Supreme Court appear to believe that it does.3 However, among the 8th, 10th, and 12th grade students surveyed in our study, school drug testing was not associated with either the prevalence or the frequency of student marijuana use, or of other illicit drug use. Nor were drug testing athletes associated with lower-than-average marijuana and other illicit drug use by high school male athletes. Even among those who identified themselves as fairly experienced marijuana users, drug testing was also not associated with either the prevalence or the frequency of their marijuana or other illicit drug use.

The possible reasons for this are numerous.  Firstly, the random nature of testing may mean that students are willing to roll the dice and run the risk because they feel that they won’t be tested.  Moreover, the prevalence of online tips and tricks on how to pass drug tests may convince students that they need not modify their behavior in the face of testing.  Still another reason may be the adversarial relationship that drug testing may trigger between a school and it’s students:

Alexandra Sifferlin.  “Pediatrics Group Says Schools Shouldn’t Drug Test”.  Time Magazine. March 30, 2015.
A leading U.S. pediatrics group is recommending against in-school drug testing as a way to prevent young people from experimenting with illegal substances. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a policy statement on Monday saying it opposes randomly drug testing students because there’s not enough evidence to show it’s effective, and because random testing can damage relationships between students and their schools. It’s also a possible infringement on privacy, the group says.

However, even in the face of the supposed ineffectiveness of drug testing, there are other reasons to keep it around.  Firstly, the data from drug testing is often used to design rehabilitative strategies for current drug addicts and at-risk youth.  The demographics of drug users can be important data points in research.  Moreover, even if current strategies are ineffective, maintaining them as legal could still be important because of the possible future emergence of better strategies:

David Martin.  “An Overview of Present and Future Drug Testing”.  Journal of Global Drug Policy and Practice.  2006.
Drug abuse has been part of the human experience for centuries: it destroys lives. families and literally costs billions of dollars of year in lost productivity. accidents and theft in the United States alone. Drug trafficking has become a global growth industry and fuels crime and terrorism internationally. The legislative initiatives to decriminalize drug possession along with the movement promoting the medicinal use of marijuana and other drugs create a de facto endorsement of drug abuse behavior. These related facts alone will make more drugs available in our society. and as such drug abuse will inevitably increase. As drug abuse increases, so will the need for drug testing, These tests will evolve to include wider panels. prescription medications and designer drugs that are being made in black market pharmacies, Drug testing has been demonstrated without a doubt that it deters drug abuse. The Quest Drug Testing Index has tracked employment testing for the last 19 years and has noted a steady decline in drug testing positives in workplace drug testing. For example, in 1988 13.6 percent of workers tested positive for drugs of abuse while in 2008 only 3.6 percent of the combined U.S, workforce tested positive for drugs. This is a phenomenal achievement, and our efforts to stop drug abuse in the workplace by drug testing have been successful and must continue. It is important to note that while U1ere is a lowering of overall drug testing positives in these workplace popUlations, the studies primarily use the NIDA 5 drug testJng panel and do not include tests for the abuse of prescription medications which are on the rise. Clearly, we have the mechanics set up to do the testing and reduce drug abuse; what is needed is to expand the scope of drugs tested and to insure specimen integrity. As government regulations led the way for the establishment of drug testing in America in the 1980s. law enforcement’s current need for an early warning system to detect drugs entering the country have pointed to new drug testing strategies. Testing systems are now being used to detect drugs on surfaces to give law enforcement reasonable suspicion to search vehicles, cargo and luggage at airports and border crossings. There are various methods to test for drugs on surfaces using swabs to directly test items or areas and indirect methods using scanning technologies. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. These surface testing systems are not limited to law enforcement but are now being used in the workplace and schools to insure the environment is drug free. If drugs are found in a specific area, this creates reasonable suspicion to increase surveillance in that area or to drug test individual’s urine, hair or saliva in that area. In addition, new technologies can readily detect drugs in the ambient room air and have been used to test for drugs in homes and industrial environments. Drug testing of the future will not be limited to the collection of biological specimens but will rely on environment testing of surfaces and ambient air to insure that an area, whether a workplace. school or living space is truly drug free.

Dog Searches
America’s best friend has become a drug dealers worst nightmare.  Years of training enable drug sniffing dogs to walk through hallways or classrooms and detect drugs contained in lockers or backpacks.  While these dogs can easily extend the deterrent against the transfer of drugs within schools, a couple factors hold back their success:

Anthony Gillman, Indiana University School of Law.  “Use of Drug Detecting Dogs in Public High Schools”.  Indian Law Journal.  1980.
It is unlikely that an indiscriminate use of marijuana detecting dogs is the only technique available which would achieve acceptable results in combating the drug problem. 126 It is also unlikely that the use of dogs is as effective as conventional methods to control a school’s drug problem.The use of marijuana detecting dogs will not control the overall drug problem if the dogs are unable to detect the presence of other often used drugs, such as alcohol and amphetamines.'” The use of dogs may deter students from bringing marijuana into the school building, but will do very little to deter student use of the drug in the schoolyard or away from school. Also, the use of dogs may implicate those students who merely are experimenting with the drug while allowing more sophisticated student drug dealers, who do not store the contraband in their lockers, to go unsuspected. The use of dogs to detect marijuana will at best provide a short-term solution; it will not appreciably lessen the underlying problems of student ignorance about drugs, and peer pressure to use drugs, nor will it eliminate sources of drugs in the community.

Moreover, the use of dog searches raises additional questions about the goals of drug policy and school safety policies in general.  In the name of keeping drugs out of schools, dog searches could push drug deals and dealers into shady neighborhoods or alley ways where students may be exposed to even more danger.  Radical teams could call for the elimination of drug policy in schools as a way to maintain a safe haven for drug deals where students couldn’t be robbed or hurt.  While this is obviously counter-intuitive, the topic will demand analysis like this as you reach the latter months of the topic.
Metal Detectors
This final security measure, instead of operating as a tool in the war on drugs, seeks to prevent students from carrying weapons like guns or knives to school.  While it retains some of the fundamental logic of the other measures in that it seeks to primarily deter students from bringing weapons, it faces issues in actually producing these results:

Abigail Hankin.  “Impacts of Metal Detector Use in Schools: Insights From 15 Years of Research∗”.  Journal of School Health.  2009.
METHODS: We conducted an extensive literature search, including databases for the medical, public health, sociology, and political science literature. Of 128 papers that met our search criteria, 7 studies met inclusion criteria for the literature review. RESULTS: Each of the papers reviewed utilized data that originated from self-report surveys. Four of the studies consisted of secondary analyses of national databases, with the other 3 utilizing local surveys. The studies varied as to the outcome, ranging from student/staff perceptions of safety at school to student self-reports of weapon carrying and/or victimization, and showed mixed results. Several studies suggested potential detrimental effects of metal detectors on student perceptions of safety. One study showed a significant beneficial effect, linking metal detector use to a decrease in the likelihood that students reported carrying a weapon while in school (7.8% vs 13.8%), without a change in weapon carrying in other settings or a decline in participation in physical fights. CONCLUSION: There is insufficient data in the literature to determine whether the presence of metal detectors in schools reduces the risk of violent behavior among students, and some research suggests that the presence of metal detectors may detrimentally impact student perceptions of safety.

The reasons for this include not only the same adversarial relationship between students and schools created by drug testing, but the fact that metal detectors, like many security measures, fail to address the root causes of undesired behavior. If students still feel unsafe or angry, they’ll rationalize bringing a weapon to school anyway:

Jaana Juvonen.  “School Violence Prevalence, Fears, and Prevention”.  RAND Corporation.  2001.
Weapons deterrence. Although bullying is far more prevalent than violence that involves weapons, [3] one primary goal of improved physical surveillance measures is to prevent youth from bringing weapons to school. Metal detectors and searches of student lockers and book bags are not uncommon, especially in large urban middle and high schools. Indeed, fewer weapons are confiscated with these measures in place[12] than are confiscated without them, implying that students are bringing weapons to school less frequently. Whether metal detectors and searches can prevent a well-planned incident from taking place is less clear.  Recent reports from administrators suggest that some schools are decreasing their use of metal detectors and searches because they appear to increase students’ fears and anxieties. Thus, weapons deterrence may increase physical safety but compromise the psychological safety of students. And it does not address the underlying reasons why students carry weapons to school.

But this, once again, does not mean that we should eliminate the use of metal detectors entirely. Different schools face different challenges during different time periods, and the ability to adapt is extremely important in addressing future threats to school safety.

Alexander Volokh.  “Strategies to Keep Schools Safe (Unabridged)”.  Reason Foundation.  1998.
Our conclusion is threefold. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Since no solution clearly works in all cases, no solution should be mandated from on high. Moreover, different schools, in different communities, will differ in their reasonable interpretations of the same data; people disagree on “what works” partly because they disagree on what it means to “work.” Schools should be free to experiment with different systems to find the solution that is best for their own needs.

This encapsulates the concern over much of the debate over school security measures.  At the end of the day, it is hard to make sweeping generalizations about what is the best solution for schools to address security concerns.  It may be that keeping the most possible options on the table for schools to choose from may give them the best potential to keep their students safe.