News & Politics

Illinois High School Will Now Not Only Randomly Test Students for Drugs, But for Alcohol—Using Hair Samples

You're just sitting in class one day, and . . . snip.

Here is one for the brutal books. St. Viator, an Arlington Heights, Illinois high school, is planning to randomly snip students' hair throughout the 2013-14 school year so that it can test at random whether or not the students have been drinking alcohol. This comes six years after the school began conducting random drug tests, and has announced that it will add alcohol checks come the fall. 

Since 2007, each school year has begun with a mandatory drug test for the entire student body, leading to random drug tests throughout the year, with students picked through a computerized system that randomly shuffles and chooses their student ID numbers. Parents Club president Kathy Loy, who spoke to ABC News, has stated that the alcohol testing will be done through those samples as well. 

It is unclear what the repercussions would be should students test positive for alcohol use, but Loy mentions that St. Viator would rather work with the students than against them, so consequences may not be immediate. 

"The first time, they are brought into the counselor's office and given counseling," Loy said, "and they'll be tested again 90 days [later]," once the previous usage has cleared out of the student's system. 

The debate about the ethical implications of school's infringing on civil rights with mandatory tests has been long gestating (look no further than Pequannock Township High School in New Jersey's similar decision to enforce urine tests, which prompted outrage from the American Civil Liberties Union who claimed that the tests are an invasion of privacy and breach of trust with the students). However the ACLU has acknowledged that, as a private school, St. Viator is able to implement the policies of their choosing, making for a complicated state of freedoms in the education sector. 

Still, many media outlets are recognizing the high school's actions as excessive and atypical. "We have a mechanism for controlling the behavior of young people outside school -- they're called parents," ACLU representative Ed Yohnka told the Chicago Tribune. "I don't think we need for schools to be acting as uber-parents."

Additionally, the school has no legal obligation to turn the results over to the Illinois Police Department, making it a strictly insular case between the students and the staff. While a relatively small high school by national standards (roughly 1,000 students), the show of seriousness regarding underage drinking and drug use is unprecedented in the state of Illinois. 

Rod Bastanmehr is a freelance writer in New York City. Follow him on Twitter @rodb.

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