It’s first period, and campus supervisor Tami Hardisty walks into the classroom. She beckons to English teacher Whitney Grummon and gestures to the slip of paper in her hand. Grummon nods and calls a name, and the summoned student stands, sighs and leaves the room, not to return again for north of 20 minutes.
This process is none other than Carmel Unified School District’s voluntary random drug testing program, quick to acknowledge its voluntary nature and available for students in grades 7 through 12. A student’s removal from the program is one phone call, email or visit to the district office.
But how exactly do students end up in the nurse’s office peeing in a cup?
According to CUSD’s chief student services officer Heath Rocha, the process begins in May, prior to a school year beginning. All parents are required to fill out the paperwork determining their child’s admission into the program. Then, in the fall of the next school year, all students signed up for the program are called into the office, where they must decide if they will sign a consent form to validate their program entrance.
Once students opt in, they are in until the day they graduate.
“It seems like the students who are being randomly tested aren’t the ones who are actually doing drugs,” sophomore Madi Brothers says. “In reality, the people who would test positive just opt out of the test altogether, and the students who end up being tested just get their class time wasted.”
Though it may sound sinister, the intention of the program is not to catch students in the act of popping pills, rather to provide students with a method of avoiding drugs altogether.
“The goal of the voluntary random drug testing program,” Rocha explains, “is to encourage a dialogue between students and parents about drug and alcohol use in addition to giving students a tool to essentially save face in the face of peer pressure.”
The paperwork conveys that all tests are “conducted by a drug collection firm…properly licensed by the state of California,” though no name is provided. The district receives no word of the results of the drug test as to individuals but maintains a compilation of the drug results for district data.
Any student who tests positive will receive no disciplinary or punitive action from the school, merely a phone call home to the student’s parents detailing the test results. The drug test is conducted via urine samples and detects amphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, opiates, PCP, alcohol, propoxyphene, methadone, benzodiazepines, barbiturate and methamphetamines.
ROP secretary Lisa Jones points out that the drug testing company visits CHS approximately once a month to test a number of students in order to preserve the sporadic quality of the testing.
Since the program’s implementation in the 2009-10 school year, participation has increased dramatically, skyrocketing from an overall participation of 12 percent in the 2010-11 school year to 63 percent in the 2015-16 school year.
To accompany that data, the California Healthy Kids Survey found that, in CUSD, the usage of marijuana, alcohol and other illegal drugs has been consistently on the decline across the board since 2009. While it’s true that correlation does not necessarily mean causation, the parallels are striking.
Despite the data, the students of CHS have varying opinions of the effectiveness of the random drug testing.
Because the drug test subjects are chosen randomly, there is no attention paid to which classes students are called out from. Additionally, the nature of selection provides for some students being called out several times throughout their high school careers, while other students are never tested at all.
Senior Zoee Johnston calls out the process itself, saying, “Not only are students being called out of AP or honors classes to be tested, but, not to be crude, students can be uncomfortable peeing on the spot.”
If a student feels uncomfortable taking the test and chooses to deny taking it, no disciplinary action will be taken against the student. Instead, the student’s parents will be informed that the student denied participating.
“I don’t see a problem with the random drug testing,” junior Evan Crane says. “If people don’t want to be random drug tested, they just shouldn’t sign up for the program. They won’t be tested without their consent.”
Rocha points out that making students uncomfortable is not the purpose of the test. The voluntary random drug testing program is only one part of a district-wide effort to limit drug and alcohol abuse.
The drug testing is joined by random contraband sweeps, where classrooms and backpacks are checked for drugs, and the drug dog program, where trained dogs come to the high school parking lot in search of illegal substances.