ACLU Demands Roane County Abandon Illegal Random Drug Testing of Students

Affiliate: ACLU of Tennessee
September 10, 2008 12:00 am

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KINGSTON, TN – The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee (ACLU-TN) today sent a letter to the Roane County school district demanding a stop to the random drug testing of student athletes which is in clear violation of state law. In addition to being illegal, random drug testing of students is proven to be ineffective in deterring drug use and is opposed by leading experts in adolescent health, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Education Association, the Association of Addiction Professionals and the National Association of Social Workers.

“Random drug testing is not only patently illegal under state law, but demonstrably ineffective and frequently counterproductive,” said Hedy Weinberg, Executive Director of the ACLU of Tennessee. “These unsubstantiated searches make a mockery of the civics lessons taught in our classrooms, and should be roundly and readily rejected by parents and school officials alike.”

The ACLU letter was sent on behalf of David Higgins, father of a ninth grader at Harriman High School, and volunteer softball and basketball coach. His daughter has been drug tested without cause eight times in recent years. All eight tests have been negative.

“It is very unsettling to me as a parent that school officials would subject our children to such embarrassing and degrading practices by forcing them to create urine samples in order to participate in the sports program,” said Higgins, who spoke with school board members last month to no avail. “I just hope that school officials come to their senses and do what is right by both Tennessee law and common decency.”

While the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that random drug testing of students involved in extracurricular activities does not violate the Constitution, many states, including Tennessee, provide stronger privacy protections, disallowing such testing schemes.

In fact, Tennessee law specifically forbids student drug testing on a random basis or without individual suspicion – permitting student drug testing only “if there are reasonable indications to the principal that such student may have used or be under the influence of drugs.”

A Tennessee Attorney General Opinion from July 2007 confirmed that state law disallows the random drug testing of students without cause, as engaged in by Roane County schools.

The ACLU demand letter, addressed to Dr. Toni H. McGriff and Earl J. Nall, the Director of Schools and Chairman for the Roane County school district respectively, gives the district 30 days to abandon its illegal random drug testing policy or face a lawsuit.

In addition to exposing schools to costly litigation, studies have found that random drug testing is ineffective in deterring student drug use. The first large-scale national study on student drug testing in 2003 found no difference in rates of student drug use between schools that have drug testing programs and those that do not. In addition, the results of a two-year trial published last November in the Journal of Adolescent Health concluded random drug testing targeting student athletes did not reliably reduce past month drug use and, in fact, produced attitudinal changes among students that indicate new risk factors for future substance use.

The ACLU letter is available online at:

An ACLU report, Making Sense of Student Drug Testing: Why Educators are Saying No, is available at:

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