Misunderstanding civil rights

I am most concerned this morning about a report that an exclusive Melbourne school is considering adopting a strategy of randomly drug testing students. Besides the fact that no clear guidelines have been published with the report about what the school would do about any students found to have been taking drugs, there is a massive and unqualified invasion of civil rights in this concept.

As usual, the simplistic and narrow-minded advocates of this strategy use the argument “if they have nothing to hide, then it won’t affect them”. I am incredibly frustrated by such an unconscionable argument. And I am appalled that the community can be so apathetic and ignorant of the implications of this absurd defence.

Random drug testing of students is a disgraceful and degenerate practice which effectually waives students’ rights to privacy, autonomy and identity. Privacy is the keystone of a free society, and making a choice to waive the right to privacy by endorsing a practice of random drug testing effectually refutes our participation in a free society. Our very contribution to democratic practice is threatened; the more power given to governing bodies to police personal practices, the less autonomy we have as individuals, and the less free we become as a society. As a legal precedent the implications are profound; if students may be randomly drug-tested, then they lose control over their bodies. Rather than individuals attending a school where their destinies are directed by individual intellectual effort, the school “owns” their product and output, and can direct their futures on the basis of biological reports. Further, if a drug test is tampered with, or inaccurate, there remains the possibility of affecting an innocent student’s career and future development with the taint of drug abuse.

Of course, there will be some out there who will argue that if we can randomly breath test – and even drug test – drivers on our roads, then we should be able to drug test employees and students in organisations.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Again this argument is absurd and ignorant. Drivers on our roads who are affected by drugs or alcohol do not have the reflexes and presence of mind to respond to emergency situations and to hazards in normal driving conditions, to effectually navigate without potentially causing serious injury or death to other drivers on our roads. Random breath testing of drivers for alcohol content, in particular, can and should be used to determine those drivers who break the law by driving with a blood alcohol level determined to be above an acceptable limit for safe driving. Those caught with a high blood alcohol limit are putting themselves and others at risk. The same can NOT be said of students who take drugs. Besides the fact that the drug tests themselves are at best, unreliable, the truth of the matter remains that if a student (stupidly) chooses to imbibe an illegal substance, they are not putting their classmates at risk by attending school under the influence of drugs. The old argument that drugs will cause some students to be disruptive or even violent simply doesn’t wash. Personality disorders, emotional problems and boredom or frustration can do the same thing, and we have been coping with these issues through normal disciplinary and counselling practices for generations. Teachers are well-versed in identifying “problem students” and varying strategies are in place to deal with disruption and violence. In any case, past surveys of drug-taking by students have demonstrated that drug taking is more likely to result in absence from classes than violence or disruption in class.

This drug-testing strategy assumes guilt in students. If we live in a true democracy we MUST resist such abominable constraints of human rights. We MUST protect our right to privacy and to the assumption of innocence, rather than abandoning ourselves to a society where our freedoms have been utterly culled.

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