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Flagging More Risks for Youth: DepEd's Random Drug Tests | CMFR

Flagging More Risks for Youth: DepEd’s Random Drug Tests

Screenshot from Rappler.com.


THE DEPARTMENT of Education (DepEd) released on August 8 DepEd Order No. 40, s. 2017 (DO 40, s.2017) which implements the policy of carrying out random drug tests in public and private secondary schools nationwide.

Section V of the order says that tests aims to “determine the prevalence of drug users among students,” and ultimately, to deter drug use and facilitate rehabilitation of dependents. Clearly, the order is in line with the government’s campaign against illegal drugs. And it concerned sectors, given the recent spate of killings of minors in the drug campaign.

CMFR cheers Rappler for focusing on these concerns about a policy which could potentially bring more harm than good to the youth.

When the Arroyo administration (2001-2010) applied random drug testing for students, Rappler noted that its efforts to address the problem were undertaken in a different context,  and the environment was not as violent as it is today. (“Random drug testing of students will make minors ‘open targets,’” September 2)

The report cited data from the Children’s Legal Rights and Development Center (CLRDC): 54 persons aged 18 and below were killed in either police operations or vigilante activities as of July 2017, of which the killing of Grade 11 student Kian delos Santos by Caloocan police in a drug raid on August 16 was the most highlighted case as of late. This, on top of a death toll of more than 3,500 persons killed based on varying numbers released by the police in past months, Rappler emphasized.

The report also discussed other issues that have caused concern about the policy’s implementation, such as the violation of privacy, possible “false positive” results from drug tests, and the adverse effects that these tests could have on students, highlighting observations made by human rights group like the CLRDC and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) who fear that such risks could heighten the vulnerability of minors to even more intense pressures from police anti-drug activities.

The report pointed out that while guidelines require confidentiality of the drug test results, the tests could lead to the stigmatization and disruption of schooling, as noted by CLRDC researcher Steph Laude. False positive results can happen “if a patient takes medicine that has the same structure as illegal drugs,” Rappler explained.

The rights group also slammed a provision in the guidelines that compels a student to undergo the random drug test with or without the parent’s consent — a provision which, CLRDC Executive Director Rowena Legaspi said, enforces fear and helplessness among students.

The report did not specify the provision, but Section VI-C 27 of the guidelines states that the failure of parents or students to acknowledge the written notice for the random drug testing would not be “a bar to the conduct” of the said test and the inclusion of the student from the sample population to be tested.

For its part, the CHR said the random drug tests in schools may have “serious constitutional questions involving due process.” It could also “place more children at significant risk of being included in the drug watch list,” CHR Chairperson Chito Gascon told Rappler.

Rappler also cited the findings of two separate studies in the US which pointed out that conducting drug tests in schools does not automatically deter drug use among students.

A study commissioned by the US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences in 2010 found that there was no decrease in drug use among students who were not tested in their school. Meanwhile, a study by the University of Michigan based on questionnaire data collected from 89,575 students between 1998 and 2011 discovered that students were likely to use substances which are different from what drug tests aim to identify.

These discoveries not only raise questions on the effectiveness of the tests, but also the wisdom of DepEd’s adoption of this policy. Charged with the responsibility of the basic education of the country’s youth, DepEd is expected to be protective of the general welfare of students, preventing the negative impact of other policies from affecting them unnecessarily.

Rappler’s effort to look into the risks involved in DepEd’s adoption of random drug testing is both timely and relevant. It flags the problems that could arise from yet another policy misstep related to government’s drug war—a direction which could make a bad situation even worse.