Students in Indiana to Face Random Drug Testing
Earlier this year, Jeff Studebaker, safety manager for the East Allen County Schools (EACS) in Indiana, proposed that schools start random drug testing on students in grades 7-12 in a preventive effort to cut down on student alcohol, tobacco, and drug use. In June, Studebaker’s policy passed for the upcoming 2015-2016 school year to start drug testing students who participate in athletics and extracurricular activities. Students who elect to drive themselves to school will also be subject to the random drug testing policy.
EACS and Studebaker hope that the institution of these drug tests on certain members of the student body will motivate them to consider the acute and chronic side effects of substances banned from campuses (all of which are illegal for minors to take). Administrators assume that the probability of a drug test will help students have a valid out when faced with peer pressure.
The new policy is not without punishment for students who fail to pass the drug tests. Depending on the number of positive-test offenses, students face suspension from athletics, extracurricular activities, and/or driving to school from 1/3 of the academic year to the entirety of their high school experience. The school district cannot test any student without the written permission of a parent or guardian, but it can prohibit a student from participating in their respective school activities without a signature consenting to the random drug testing. By leaving students without a choice in submitting to the drug tests if they want to be active in school clubs and athletics, the district hopes to leave them with only one choice in saying no to drugs and alcohol.
The EACS drug testing policy is fraught with problems, the largest being that a student who tests positive for banned substances one time will also be banned from engaging in school activities, athletics, or a self-commute to school that could benefit that student’s future or current situation. Sports and extracurricular activities give students a sense of accomplishment and positive social interaction, not to mention they appeal to college application committees. But secondary students are also prone to making rash and ill-informed decisions, even when they are inundated with health education that teaches them about the dangers of illegal substances. Peer pressure can still be stronger to a young person than the threat of an administrator, and limiting a student’s ability to be in a positive extracurricular environment for one infraction is extreme and counterproductive.
Additionally, Studebaker claims that he and school officials are “looking for kis who need help” by institutiting the drug tests, yet they are targeting students who elect to participate in school activities by testing them with an oral swab. Oral fluids do not carry drugs and alcohol for as long as other drug testing methods (like urine), so they tend to miss habitual users and catch very recent intoxication. Studebaker says that he saw other school districts utilize random drug testing on students and achieve positive test rates of 2% or lower. One could assume that this rate is due to students using less out of fear that they will test positive, but it is just as likely that the students involved in school activities aren’t using drugs and alcohol as often, or they weren’t using them within a window that an oral swab would detect.
Keeping illicit drugs, alcohol, and tobacco out of schools is definitely a worthy goal to ensure student and faculty safety, but keeping children out of enriching school organizations for one infraction isn’t worth affecting their future or access to a positive environment.
Personal Background Screenings Provide Preparation and Power
Have you ever thought about conducting a background check on yourself or someone else? If you haven’t made an effort to access your personal records in the past, you should consider doing so now. Even if you know your history is free from criminal activity or major credit issues, the personal information that is available online could affect other areas of your life just as much as a shady background screening could affect an individual’s ability to gain employment or a rental contract.
One of the easiest reports to access is your credit report. The three reporting agencies (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian) allow you to check your credit report for free once every year. Even if you know you don’t have any delinquent debt or other credit concerns, accessing these reports provides a comprehensive overview of how your financial past could affect you. Occasionally, you might even find misinformation on a credit report that needs to be corrected. Monitoring credit reports regularly helps avoid and repair these errors. Certain jobs may even require a credit check as part of a pre-employment background screening. Knowing what an employer could see during this process helps eliminate any surprises when hiring decisions are made.
Credit reports are not the the only information that may reveal to others more than you want them to know. The internet contains a limitless amount of facts and opinions, and may even contain comments about you that you don’t want others to see. Maybe you made a comment a decade ago that you don’t agree with now or would find embarrassing if an employer were to read it. A little time and personal effort spent on sites like Google and Facebook can help you reduce anything that might damage your personal or professional reputation and be prepared for what others might find and bring up in conversation, whether it is with someone you met online or a prospective employer.
Cost should not be a major concern when conducting a background screening on yourself. Credit reports are freely accessible from the three reporting agencies. The National Center for State Courts is also free to use and provides civil and criminal information on a state-by-state basis. This database might be particularly useful when checking others’ histories (i.e. a potential roommate). One of the best ways to get a comprehensive picture of your personal history is to utilize a third-party background screening firm like Victig, which can provide credit, criminal, and other investigative information without taking up all of your time.
The more information you have about yourself, the more informed you can be when making important decisions and life changes (i.e. applying for a loan or new job). As long as you employ credible resources and companies to help you in your search, conducting a personal background check should be an efficient and beneficial process.
CFPB Penalizes Two Background Screening Report Providers Because They Penalized James Smith #12,049
In late October, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) penalized two of the largest employment background screening report providers. The two companies penalized were General Information Services (GIS) and e-Background-checks.com, Inc. (BGC). The penalties incurred included a $10.5 million in relief money to be paid to customers, a $2.5 million civil penalty, mandatory procedure and policy changes, and the hiring of an independent auditor to ensure future compliance.
One failure unearthed during the CFPB’s review was that there wasn’t a sufficient audit process to check that all reports were accurate. Between 2010 and 2014, nearly 70% of all criminal history disputes for these companies resulted in some sort of change because of an inaccuracy found on the report. These inaccuracies included mismatched criminal records, dismissed or expunged records, and misdemeanors reported as felonies.
The CFPB also found that neither GIS nor BGC adequately prevented non-reportable suits and judgments (such as information older that the reportable age) from being illegally included in reports. Additionally, the companies were found guilty of failing to make sure that the public records matched the correct customer. These mismatched records resulted in rejected employment for the customer. One common example of failure to make sure records matched is that GIS did not require employers to provide middle names for potential employees. This is especially problematic with common names.
Let’s get more concrete with this “common name” problem. According to information compiled by WhitePages.com in 2013, there were 38,313 James Smiths living in the United States. Consider that for a moment. Assuming that the age range of these people is between 18 and 90 (people who have phones in their name), that gives us 72 years—or 26,280 days. That means that about every other day, there is more than one person christened James Smith with the exact same name and date of birth. And the concentration of people named James Smith will likely be greater the younger they are because there are more 18 year-olds than 89 year-olds. Without a middle name, you can see how it might be difficult to determine who’s who, especially with people who are of employment-seeking age. This is why it was such a problem when the CFPB found that the companies did not have a written policy about researching common names to ensure that the record provided indeed matched the correct customer.
Employers, job-seekers, and background screening providers need to take care that all information provided on a background screening is accurate and complete. Accurate and complete input with ensure the correct output, which is good for everyone involved.
Mental Health Screenings More Prevalent in Gun Sales
Personal health information, including mental health records, is some of the most sensitive and well-protected knowledge during the majority of background screenings. Employers are subject to legal restrictions regarding the type of health information they can request and obtain from an employee, but certain mental health records are not as private when gun laws come into play.
In the last decade, most states have amended or created legislation that has enhanced the sharing of mental health records in the “federal criminal background check database.” In fact, the number of available records in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), the system federally-licensed gun retailers use to screen buyers, has nearly tripled in recent years due to the aforementioned changes in state laws. In the past, the availability of mental health records in NICS has been minimal and irregular, causing concern among gun control advocates who wanted to improve record sharing in the hopes of decreasing gun acquisition and violence.
Though federally-licensed firearms retailers conduct about 60% of firearms sales, individual states determine the efficiency of how they share their respective mental health records. Additionally, the only records that enter NICS and prohibit an individual from purchasing a gun from federal institutions must meet the following criteria determined by a court of law:
- The individual must have been “adjudicated as a mental defective,”
- or, the individual must have been “committed to a mental institution” (on an involuntary basis).
Therefore, only mental health records that a court has decided prove an individual is a threat to him/herself and/or others and meet the preceding criteria exist within NICS, and only if the state decides to acquire legislation that makes sharing those records comprehensive.
Job seekers and employees do not have to worry about their mental health records affecting their background screenings in the same way that gun buyers do. HIPPA laws protect medical information (which includes mental health information), and the majority of employers cannot request access to an employees medical information. Even if an employer has a valid reason for needing to know certain aspects of an employee’s health records (i.e. needing a sick note for missed time, dealing with worker’s compensation, and/or other legal matters that involve employee health issues), individuals must authorize the release of their personal health information.
The federal and state laws regarding mental health background screenings exist to prohibit violent individuals from accessing dangerous materials, not for employers to gain access to private and protected information.