Blog post

Lockdown High: The War on Drugs Goes to School

Clara Heyworth27 June 2011

Truthout has run an excerpt from Annette Fuentes' Lockdown High: When the Schoolhouse Becomes a Jailhouse. The excerpt, adapted from chapter 5 of the book, "The War on Drugs Goes to School," opens with a portrait of one Chris Steffner, a "true believer in the national movement to randomly drug-test students."

Chris Steffner strode to the front of the packed audience, shunning the podium to deliver her sermon Oprah-style with a wireless mic transmitting the Word loud and clear. The pert, petite blonde is principal of Colts Neck High School in Monmouth County, New Jersey, and a true believer in the national movement to randomly drug-test students in order to save them from themselves and the perceived epidemic of youth drug and alcohol abuse. Steffner was among nine presenters at this, the second Regional Drug Testing Summit of 2007, organized by the federal Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and held at the Hilton Hotel near Newark International Airport on February 27.

I'm not here to tell you, ‘You should drug-test your kids.' That's your decision," she declared. "It's not about how bad your drug problem is. It's about how much you're willing to do to keep your students off drugs." With a colorful PowerPoint presentation projected behind her, Steffner regaled the assembly with tales of what she was willing to do as principal at Hackettstown High School, her prior post, where she initiated a random drug-testing program in 2004 for athletes, club members, and students driving to and parking at school. There was the story of drunken students at the senior prom, whose vomiting tipped Steffner off to their condition: "I did what every red-blooded principal will do. I bend over and smell that vomit. If I do nothing, I tell those kids it's okay." Steffner also was willing to publicly humiliate students and told of calling an inebriated prom attendee's parents to cart him off before his peers. "They don't get that they can be out of control, they don't get that they can die," Steffner intoned. "That's the beauty of being a kid."

In the first year of drug testing at Hackettstown, Steffner claimed, 70 students from a pool of 1,000 were subjected to urinalysis, yielding one positive-for what drug she did not say. In the 2005-2006 school year, 740 of 1,000 eligible students were tested, producing no positives. A logical conclusion might be that the tests were a waste of time and money. But Steffner said the results were proof that testing was deterring drug use. She nodded to another presenter, "the guru, Lisa Brady," who as vice principal of Hunterdon Central in 1997 helped pioneer random drug testing in that New Jersey high school. One by one, Steffner deflected the arguments of student-drug-testing opponents, dismissing civil rights and privacy concerns, costliness, and the basic lack of scientifically based evidence that drug testing actually deters use among youth with the self-righteousness of a religious crusader.

Visit Truthout to read the excerpt in full.