MILFORD, PA.: As a 12-year-old seventh-grader, Glenn and Kathy Kiederer’s older daughter wanted to play sports at Delaware Valley Middle School there. She also wanted to join the scrapbooking club.
One day she took home a permission slip. It said that to participate in the club or any school sport, she would have to consent to drug testing.
“They were asking a 12-year-old to pee in a cup,” Kathy Kiederer said. “I have a problem with that. They’re violating her right to privacy over scrapbooking? Sports?”
Olympic athletes must submit urine samples to prove they are not doping. The same is true for Tour de France cyclists, NFL players, college athletes and even some high school athletes. Now, children in grades as low as middle school are being told that providing a urine sample is required to play sports or participate in extracurricular activities like drama and choir.
Such drug testing at the middle school level is confounding students and stirring objections from parents and proponents of civil liberties.
The Kiederers, whose two daughters are now in high school, are plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the Delaware Valley School District, with the daughters identified only by their first initials, A. and M. The parents said mandatory drug testing was unnecessary and that it infringed on their daughters’ rights. (For privacy reasons, they asked that their daughters’ first names not be published.)
A lawyer for the school district declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.
It is difficult to gauge how many middle schools conduct drug tests on students. States with middle schools that conduct drug testing include Florida, Alabama, Missouri, West Virginia, Arkansas, Ohio, New Jersey and Texas.
Some coaches, teachers and school administrators said drug-testing programs served as a deterrent for middle school students encountering drugs of all kinds, including steroids, marijuana and alcohol.
“We wanted to do it to create a general awareness of drug prevention,” said Steve Klotz, assistant superintendent at Maryville School District in Missouri. “We’re no different than any other community. We have kids who are making those decisions.”
There are no known instances of a middle school student testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs like steroids or human growth hormone. The few positive results among middle school students have been attributed to marijuana, officials said, and even those cases are rare.
Maryville’s drug-testing program, which includes most of its middle and high school students, begins this fall after officials spent 18 months reviewing other programs in the state, Klotz said. In fall 2011, Klotz said, the school board conducted a survey of parents, and 72 percent said that a drug-testing program was necessary. The cost will be $5,000 to $7,000 a year and will come from the school’s general operating budget.
“Drug testing is a multibillion-dollar industry,” said Dr. Linn Goldberg, head of the Division of Health Promotion and Sports Medicine at the Oregon Health and Science University. “They go to these schools and say it’s great. But do the schools actually look at the data? Schools don’t know what to do.”
Drug testing for high school athletes, which has been around for years, was deemed constitutional in a 1995 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Some districts have expanded their drug-testing programs in recent years to include middle school students.
In 2003, the Department of Education started a program that offered federal money for drug testing in grades six through 12, and the last of the grants will be closed out this fall. The program, following the outlines of the Supreme Court decision, allowed testing for students who participated in school activities, or whose parents chose to enroll them.
In the 2004-05 school year, an estimated 14 percent of public school districts conducted some form of random drug testing, according to a Department of Education report. But middle school testing is not thoroughly tracked by officials.
The nature of drug-testing programs at the middle school level varies by school district. In general, an outside testing company conducts the tests under contract with school authorities. Students are generally given little, if any, advance notice and are pulled away from class and asked to urinate in a cup — unsupervised, to comply with privacy laws.
Specimens are sent to a laboratory, and parents and students are notified of any positive result. Some schools require a second test to confirm a positive result; in others, parents may request a challenge to a result, sometimes for a fee. Results are generally not shared with law enforcement.
Warning or removal
Punishment for a positive test can range from a warning to removal from a sports team or an activity.
“It starts early with kids,” said Matthew Franz, who owns the drug testing company Sport Safe based in Columbus, and is a member of the Student Drug-Testing Coalition, an organization of drug-testing proponents. “You want to get in there and plant these seeds of what’s out there and do prevention early. The 11th- and 12th-graders, most of them have already made a choice. But the eighth-graders, they’re still making decisions, and it helps if you give them that deterrent.”
But some experts doubt the effectiveness of such testing.
“There’s little evidence these programs work,” Goldberg said. “Drug testing has never been shown to have a deterrent effect.”
Despite the Supreme Court ruling in 1995, some districts have been challenged in lower courts.
The American Civil Liberties Union won a settlement last year relying on California’s stricter state privacy laws that prevented the schools from conducting random drug testing for students in nonathletic activities absent a reasonable ground for suspicion. The district, in Redding, Calif., discontinued its program as part of the settlement.
Not all parents oppose testing of middle school students. Daniel Alef, the father of an eighth-grade swimmer in Santa Barbara, Calif., said he would support testing at his son’s school.
“Kids today grow up too quickly and have access to way more information,” he said. “But in the end, I think it goes back to the parents.”