A growing number of Nebraska high schools have implemented random drug screening procedures for their students. But do those drug tests infringe on student rights? It depends on which school is doing the testing.
On a typical morning at Creighton Prep in Omaha, students of the all-boys Catholic high school attended a mass.
They stood in line, waited to receive communion, and prepared mentally and spiritually to begin their day.
It’s part of the culture principal Jon Naatz said he and his staff are committed to installing in every student.
“We want them to be open to growth, academically competent, loving, religious, and committed to doing justice. We want them to go out from here to be solid citizens in Omaha, the state of Nebraska, and in the United States,” Naatz said.
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Creighton Prep Principal John Naatz said for the last 10 years, his school has participated in a survey of Nebraska sophomores and seniors on anti-social and pro-social behaviors. Naatz said survey results showed Prep students "are falling into the same peer pressures that any other student would have in the state." Naatz said the new random drug testing policy provides an opportunity for the parents and school to form a partnership to better care for each student.
Teaching those attributes is part of what Naatz called Cura Personalis, or the care and concern of the individual person.
Cura Personalis is also why beginning next school year, Naatz said every student at prep must submit to random drug testing.
“We will choose about 30 students a week and have them tested for binge drinking, marijuana, amphetamines, cocaine, and opiates,” Naatz said.
Each student randomly chosen for the test will submit a hair sample to be examined by a medical lab. If a student tests positive, a counselor meets with him and his parents. He’s also required to take another test. A second failed test and the student will face disciplinary action.
A third failed test and the student is disenrolled.
For the most part, Naatz said Creighton Prep’s students and their parents have supported the new drug testing policy.
Nicholas Davis is a junior at Prep. He said the drug testing goes hand-in-hand with Cura Personalis.
“You care for the person next to you. You care for your brother at Prep. I want to see the person next to me, I want to see them healthy and I want to see them make better decisions and make good decisions,” Davis said.
Adam Mullin, a Prep sophomore, said the drug testing will also provide a way out for students who find themselves the victim of peer pressure.
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ABOVE: Prep Junior Nicholas Davis said he is in favor of the new drug testing policy, adding "since we want to hold ourselves to a higher standard, this is a way for us to uphold the standard we had as a tradition for years."
BELOW: Prep Sophomore Adam Mullin said it will be important for the student body at Prep to support a student who fails a drug screening. "It’s very important if they’ve already fallen into that, that their peers here at school are the ones that tell them 'okay, let’s move on' and help them to choose activities ... that will keep them away from doing those things again," Mullin said.
“It gives people a reason to say ‘no.’ It can help people and give them a reason when they’re out on the weekends. They will have that plausible reason,” Mullin said.
Creighton Prep isn’t the first Nebraska high school to drug test students, but they are now among the most stringent.
While there is no official number, at least 4 of Nebraska’s 248 school districts report having a random drug screening procedure in place to test certain students.
Those districts are Gering, Scottsbluff, Sidney, and Mitchell—all in Nebraska’s panhandle.
In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court made a critical ruling on the issue of drug testing students. (Click here for PBS Newshour's coverage of the decision) In the 5-4 vote, the court held constitutional an Oklahoma school board’s policy of testing any student participating in a competitive, extra-curricular activity
“[From] chess club to competing on the football team, but there are no federal cases, that I know of, that have said ‘it’s okay’ to test all students simply by virtue of the fact they’re attending school,” said Josephine Potuto, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Nebraska Law School.
She said since Creighton Prep is a private school, students are not subject to the same protections provided by the fourth amendment, which guards against illegal search and seizure without probable cause.
But, Potuto agreed there may be some ambiguity in the Supreme Court’s decision, which focused on students involved in activities, and not students in general.
“Could a public school say we want to test everybody once a year? A school certainly could go back and raise that issue and it would be up to the courts to decide whether that’s over the line in terms of what the fourth amendment dictates,” Potuto said.
One thing she said is right on the line: drug testing students who simply attend activities.
Many schools already make students take a breathalyzer test at some events, but Gering Public Schools in western Nebraska has taken it a step further.
Last school year, the district implemented a new drug testing policy requiring any student in junior or senior high who wanted to play sports, sing in the show choir, or go to a dance to submit to random drug screenings.
Failing a drug test would result in a student being held out of activities.
If a student fails a test more than once, they could be prohibited from all extra-curricular activities for the duration of their high school career.
The principal of Gering High, Eldon Hubbard, said the overwhelming majority of students have been willing to submit to testing
“I think we’ve had good cooperation with the students. Just less than 700 out of approximately 900 students are in the testing pool,” Hubbard said.
That means of Gering Public School's almost 900 students, around 200 have chosen to not participate in activities, and therefore aren’t required to enter the testing pool.
They can, however, still attend things like sporting events or school plays.
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Students gather for mass at Creighton Prep before returning to class. Creighton Prep Principal John Naatz said his school will model their policy after Rockhurst High School, a Catholic high school in Kansas City. The cost of the testing will be incorporated into the school's general operating budget.
Hubbard said of the students who are in the testing pool, one percent are randomly drawn each week for testing. He admits some students have failed the test, but won’t reveal an exact number, just saying it was very few.
Senior Justin Schwartzkopf sings in the show choir and plays golf for Gering.
He hasn’t been called for testing yet, and said just the possibility of getting tested may be keeping some students out of activities.
“I’ve suspected it. I mean, normally people will play a certain sport, and once we started the drug testing they stopped. But I don’t know if that’s the reason why,” Schwartzkopf said.
It costs Gering Public Schools around $36 each time a student is tested for drugs. Creighton Prep, which uses a different company for the screenings, will pay around $60 per test.
So while some say there are benefits to drug testing students, because it’s so expensive, most experts agree public schools would most likely be unable to screen every student, regardless of the constitutional implications.