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Informing America’s Policy on Illegal Drugs: What We Don’t Know Keeps Hurting Us
alcohol (87 percent), tobacco (79 percent) or illegal drugs (88 percent). (Zero tolerance in this context refers to a school or district policy mandating predetermined punishments for specific offenses.) High schools were slightly less likely to have zero-tolerance policies for tobacco use (72 percent) than for alcohol (86 percent) or illegal drug use (89 percent). One-fourth of the principals (27 percent), representing about 21,000 schools nationwide, reported having taken significant disciplinary action against student use of alcohol, tobacco, or illegal drugs during 1996–1997. These actions included expulsion (18 percent), transfers to alternative schools or programs (20 percent), and suspension for periods of five days or more (62 percent). About half of high schools (45 percent) and a third of middle schools (36 percent) reported conducting occasional “drug sweeps” (locker searches or dog searches) during 1996–1997.
Additional data can be gleaned from the National Study of Delinquency Prevention in Schools, a national study of schools conducted during spring 1997 and the 1997–1998 school year, which included principal reports of school sanctions (Gottfredson et al., 2000). The survey found that almost all schools have written policies about drugs, and almost all schools report that they usually expel or suspend students for possession of alcohol or illegal drugs. A substantial majority of schools report that they impose these sanctions automatically for possession of illegal drugs (77 percent) or alcohol (67 percent). The study also revealed that 46 percent of high schools conducted routine locker searches and 31 percent of high schools used dogs to sniff for drugs, guns, or bombs. No evaluative data on the effectiveness of these practices is available.
Drug Testing in High Schools
Drug testing programs have become well established in professional and college sports. Notwithstanding occasional highly publicized violations, it is generally agreed that drug testing in this setting, for both deterrent and declarative purposes, is both legitimate and effective.4
In contrast, the legitimacy (and value) of mandatory drug testing of
Drug testing for professional athletes is on strong ethical footing because an opportunity to participate in professional sports, and to reap the rewards of doing so, is a “pure” privilege, and athletes who want to reap those rewards can fairly be expected to submit to drug testing as a condition of participation. Such contractual arrangements are wholly devoid of coercive elements. These observations are generally applicable to college athletics as well, although a connection between tuition and athletic scholarships for many athletes does introduce a slightly coercive element.