FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS: THE BASICS OF RSDT
What is Random Student Drug Testing (RSDT)?
RSDT is a valuable part of drug prevention programs in middle and high schools. Students are tested for the recent use of illegal drugs during normal school hours.
Why test students?
There are 4 primary goals of student drug testing programs.
- To deter and prevent drug use
- To reinforce all other prevention efforts
- To identify students who need help getting and staying drug-free
- To prepare students for workplace drug testing
Want to Learn More? [PDF] RSDT programs help prevent adolescent addiction, help high risk groups, improve the quality of school education, and decrease the risk of injury.
What is the history of drug testing?
Drug testing began in the U.S. as a prevention strategy during the Vietnam War. In 1982, the U.S. Navy began random drug testing all active duty personnel following a tragic accident on the carrier Nimitz which was due to impairment from illegal drug use. Shortly thereafter random drug testing was extended to all active duty military personnel.
Responding to concerns about public safety, the Federal Government expanded drug testing to workers in safety-sensitive industries in the late 1980s.
At that time drug testing became standard for many private and government employers.
Building on these positive experiences in the workplace since 1995 an increasing number of public and private schools have incorporated random drug testing into their comprehensive drug prevention programs.
On May 10, 2001, President George W. Bush set a two-year goal of reducing drug use in youth by 10 percent, and a five-year goal of reducing use by 25 percent.
In his January 2004 State of the Union Address, the President expressed strong support for random student drug testing and increased spending on student drug testing programs. Recent data show that the two-year and the five-year goals were met. RSDT is part of that success story.
Is random student drug testing legal?
In two landmark cases, the U.S. Supreme Court held that is constitutional to perform random drug testing on students participating in athletics and competitive extracurricular activities:
Vernonia School District 47J v. Acton, 1995
Policy: To require all athletes to take a urinalysis drug test in order to participate in sports activities
Challenge: Unconstitutional - Violation of children's right to privacy.
Supreme Court Ruling: Student drug testing for athletes was held as constitutional
Decision: 6 to 3
Supreme Court Case [PDF] Dissent [PDF] Opinion [PDF] Syllabus [PDF]
Board of Education of Independent School District No. 92 of Pottawatomie County, et al, Petitioners v. Lindsay Earls et al, 2002
Policy: To require all middle and high school students in Tecumseh, Oklahoma to consent to urinalysis testing for drugs in order to take part in any extracurricular activities.
Challenge: Unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures
Supreme Court Ruling: Held Constitutional.
Decision: 5 to 4
Supreme Court Case [PDF]
What are the types of testing programs?
Random testing is distinguished from for-cause testing because the testing is not based on individualized suspicion that the tested student has used drugs recently. For-cause testing is based on suspicion of use by the tested student.
Random testing can be either Mandatory or Voluntary:
Mandatory: All students in a designated group are eligible for student drug testing (athletes, participants in extracurricular activities, student drivers, etc.).
Voluntary: Students, with parental consent, may choose to be a part of the student drug testing program by signing consent forms or choose not to join the program without penalty.
What is the drug testing procedure?
While each school's drug testing policies and procedures are unique to its community, there are standard steps to follow in developing a RSDT program. For detailed description of writing policies, see Checklist for Success: A Manual for Developing a RSDT Program.
- Each day that students are present in school, they are eligible for a random test even if they were tested the day before.
- Students are randomly selected and are individually excused from class for a short period of time.
- Students are brought to the nurse's office or another appropriate place where they are instructed that they have been randomly selected to be tested on that day.
- If urine tests are used, the student is given the specimen cup and is asked to offer sample in a private setting -- usually the nurse's bathroom or other school restroom.
- After completion of the test, the student returns to class.
School nurses or Third Party Administrators (TPAs) are usually the collectors of specimens. If hair or saliva tests are used, the samples are taken on site. If a sample tests negative for illegal drugs, no other testing takes place on the sample.
What happens when a student tests positive?
A positive drug test result may indicate recent use of illegal drugs. Throughout the following procedures, confidentiality is kept among all parties involved.
- The positive test is verified by a Medical Review Officer (MRO). The MRO is a licensed physician who is responsible for reviewing laboratory drug test results and evaluating medical explanations for certain drug test results.
- The student has an evaluation with a counselor.
- No law enforcement is involved.
- Schools do not dismiss or suspend students from school for positive random drug tests. School policies may require a student who tests positive to leave certain non-academic activities for a period of time to ensure that the student has become drug-free. Schools commonly provide specific drug education programs for the student.
- Follow-up testing takes place to help the student remain drug-free. If on follow-up testing after the student is evaluated the student continues to test positive, the student may be referred to treatment.
What about prescription drugs?
If a student is appropriately using prescription drugs, he or she may test positive on a drug test. However, a Medical Review Officer (MRO) reviews every laboratory positive drug test result. The MRO verifies that the substance identified in the drug test is prescribed to the student. If that is the case, the test is reported by the MRO to the school as a negative test result.
This ensures that no student tests positive for drugs due to prescription medicine. Student confidentiality is maintained and only the student, the student's parents and the MRO know of the student's use of prescription drugs.