ACLU of Washington State Challenges Suspicionless Urine Testing for Students

Affiliate: ACLU of Washington
December 17, 1999 12:00 am

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ACLU of Washington
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Friday, December 17, 1999

SEATTLE — In the first legal action of its kind in Washington State, two sets of parents of high school students today filed a lawsuit challenging a school district’s recently adopted policy of suspicionless urine testing for students who participate in extracurricular athletic activities.

The lawsuit is the first case to challenge a student urine-testing program in Washington. The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington is providing legal representation in the suit, which was filed in Wahkiakum County Superior Court.

“Forcing students to submit their urine to officials is a degrading practice that treats all student athletes as suspects,” said Julya Hampton, Legal Program Director of the ACLU of Washington. “The district’s policy is an effort to make a symbolic statement about drugs at the expense of students who simply want to be on sports teams.”

Hans York, a deputy sheriff and plaintiff in the suit, said that “we object to the urine-testing policy as an unwarranted invasion of privacy. We want schools to teach our children to think critically, not to police them.”

Hans and Katherine York are parents of a senior at Wahkiakum High School who is in the National Honor Society and of a ninth-grader. Paul and Katherine Schneider, parents of a ninth-grader, also are plaintiffs in the legal action. Paul Schneider is a medical doctor who has served as a Medical Review Officer in a drug rehabilitation context.

In the fall of 1999, the Wahkiakum School Board in southwest Washington adopted a policy providing that all students who take part in extracurricular athletic activities be subjected to urine testing without suspicion. The lawsuit says that the policy was adopted without any convincing evidence that there is a significant problem among students with use of illegal drugs or that disciplinary problems have increased as a result of student drug use. Government reports show that teen drug use is on the decline nationally.

The lawsuit further charges that urine collection procedures substantially invade personal privacy. Students are required to shed all extraneous clothing and to urinate in close proximity to an official. A student who is unable to urinate without a medical reason will be deemed to be a drug user and will be barred from all extracurricular athletics.

The lawsuit contends that the policy of suspicionless testing violates the “privacy clause” of the Washington Constitution (Article I, Section 7), which provides that “No person shall be disturbed in his private affairs, or his home invaded, without authority of law.”

In a 1985 ACLU of Washington case — Kuehn v. Renton School District — the Washington Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional for public schools to search a student without individualized suspicion that he or she is breaking a law or school rule. In that case, officials at Hazen High School in Renton had sought to search a student’s luggage prior to a school band trip.

Experts in the fields of medicine and social science say that policies like Wahkiakum’s are the wrong approach to preventing drug use.

In a 1996 position statement opposing suspicionless drug testing, the American Academy of Pediatrics said the “students and student athletes should not be singled out for involuntary screening for drugs,” citing the importance of confidentiality and autonomy for adolescents and lack of accuracy in detecting certain drugs.

Cooperating attorneys Anuj Desai and Catherine Maxson of Davis Wright Tremaine are handling the case for the ACLU-WA.

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