US Catholic Faith in Real Life

God's Big Brother: Are Catholic schools invading student privacy?

By Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
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With drug-detecting technology getting ever more sophisticated, a Catholic school is taking another step toward monitoring the extracurricular activities of its students. St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights, a Chicago suburb, is now testing students for alcohol use using hair samples, according to Fox News. The test also detects other drugs, including cocaine and marijuana. School administrators argue that this is a safety measure, and parents seem to agree: "It’s a great vehicle for them to understand that, if you’re not going to be accountable to your parents, you’re going to be accountable to somebody," said parent Joe Farwell. A student gave another rationale, according to Chicago's CBS affiliate: "I think if you’re at a party, or something, and you see other people doing it that are your age, you kind of get the feeling that you should do it, too," said Danny Walsh.

I like Walsh's answer; at least drug testing gives kids an excuse to say no to drugs and alcohol if they need one. But I'm not sure that random drug testing really respects the human dignity of these students, and I don't think that Catholic schools should be employing these kinds of Big Brother tactics. In short, do we want to kids to make the right choices because they are afraid of getting caught or because they have been formed to treat themselves and others as God's daughters and sons? Obviously if a student actually has an incident involving alcohol or drugs, then the school might take other measures in consultation with parents.

During the year I taught in a Catholic high school, the school announced that in the following year it would begin mandatory drug testing. When I raised the issue with my juniors and seniors, most were OK with the testing, arguing that if you have nothing to hide, then it's no big deal. And yet I am still uncomfortable with demanding that a student, as a condition of enrollment, surrender a part of their body--their hair--for testing. I might expect that from the military or the police, but from a Catholic school? To my mind, this is a case of our culture of fear and punishment trumping the gospel of the dignity of the human person.