School district apologizes for giving students bald spots during random drug testing

Chantel Anderson, a cancer survivor, came home from school with a quarter-size bald spot after she was randomly picked for drug testing at school. (Photo: Courtesy of Brian Anderson)
Chantel Anderson, a cancer survivor, came home from school with a quarter-size bald spot after she was randomly picked for drug testing at school. (Photo: Courtesy of Brian Anderson)

Drug testing has gone awry in one school district.

At the beginning of each school year, parents of middle and high school students in Phillipsburg, Kan., sign consent forms for their children to be tested for drugs at random. If they don’t agree, the students can’t participate in sports or other extracurricular activities.

But what the parents didn’t consent to was having large chunks of their kids’ hair shaved off.

“The spot was the size of a quarter in the back of her head,” Jeanette Anderson told Yahoo Lifestyle of the hair sample taken from her 18-year-old daughter, Chantel. “She was about in tears when she told us about it. It was upsetting because it happened to her, but she also saw it happen to other kids and that was upsetting to her too.”

Hair follicles for drug testing are typically taken from multiple places on the head so that no bald spot will be visible.

“This lady that did it — I don’t think she had a heart,” Chantel’s father, Brian Anderson, said. “She drove from Topeka up here, so that’s about four hours of driving. And when she got here all she wanted to do was go buzz, buzz, buzz and be done and turn around and go back home.”

Photo: Courtesy of Brian Anderson
Photo: Courtesy of Brian Anderson

The hair loss was particularly devastating to Chantel because she’s a survivor of pediatric brain cancer, which affected her pituitary gland, causing her parents to monitor her stress levels closely. Her hair is also very thin and takes such a long time to grow that she’s only had a couple of haircuts in the past 15 years.

“Where they took it, if she stands up and walks away from you, you can see that bald spot,” Brian said.

Mike Gower, the school superintendent for USD 325, apologized to the Andersons right away. He told local news station KSNW that the schools would no longer use the drug testing company Compliance One. (Neither Gower nor Compliance One have returned Yahoo Lifestyle’s calls requesting comment.)

Gower also said he plans to put new rules in place to regulate who is present during the testing. “We’ll make sure someone is in there, not only the parent but an employee,” he said. “We don’t just want the testing person from the company” to be in the room alone with the student.

The policy of random drug testing using hair follicles, which detects drug use going back as far as 90 days, will remain in place in the district. School officials believe that random testing deters drug use.

But the American Academy of Pediatrics has said that there is little evidence to back up this theory.  And while a Supreme Court ruling in 2002 made it possible for schools to test students participating in extracurricular activities, the American Civil Liberties Union opposes the practice.

“Instead of putting up barriers like drug testing, schools should engage students in meaningful activities,” the ACLU states, citing studies that show keeping kids involved in school does deter drug use.

Despite the bad experience, Brian Anderson says he believes that schools should continue drug testing.

“I think it’s a good thing,” he says. “It just needs to be done a better way, so it’s less stressful for the kids.”

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