After Bitter Battle, Texas School Agrees to Drop Mandatory Student Drug Testing Policy

April 30, 2001 12:00 am

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LOCKNEY, TX -The American Civil Liberties Union and the Lockney Independent School District today announced a settlement in the mandatory student drug testing dispute that has pitted one man’s convictions against an entire town.

“We’re happy it’s all over with,” said Larry Tannahill, who filed a lawsuit on behalf of his son Brady and became the town pariah as a result.

The settlement came on the heels of a March 1 ruling by a U.S. District Court judge that Lockney’s mandatory drug-testing policy — which required the testing of all students in grades seven through twelve – is unconstitutional. At the time, school district officials said they would appeal the decision. But with today’s settlement, the school will return to its policy of testing only students who volunteer or who appear to be under the influence of drugs.

“We are pleased that Lockney has decided not to appeal the court’s decision and to turn its drug testing policy around,” said Graham Boyd, Director of the ACLU’s Drug Policy Litigation Project, which took on the case last year. “We look forward to working with Lockney and many other schools to make sure their drug testing policies are constitutionally sound.”

Under Lockney’s policy, all students were required to submit to a drug test. Any student who tested positive or declined to be tested was subject to punishment, including in-school suspension and suspension from extracurricular activities.

Larry Tannahill was the only parent to object to the new policy. As a result he lost his job and became an outcast in his own hometown, a farming community of 2,300 people. In one terrifying incident, someone shot the Tannahill’s dog with a paint gun and left a note that read “Next time it won’t be your dog.”

“It has been a hard road,” said Tannahill. “Even my friends have been criticized for keeping company with me. I knew my son would pass the drug test, but that wasn’t the issue at hand. It was the principle of the thing. The school does not have the right or the need to test students who show no signs of drug abuse.”

Under the settlement terms, Lockney officials agreed to withdraw its appeal, cease all suspicionless drug testing, and pay some of the Tannahill’s attorneys’ fees.

The ACLU has been active in fighting mandatory student drug testing policies across the country. In addition to the Texas ruling, in March a Denver Appeals court struck down as unconstitutional a similar urine testing policy in an Oklahoma school. And last August, a court in Indiana drug tests on students who participate in sports or other extracurricular activities, or who drive to school and a school district in Talbot County, Maryland agreed to stop all student drug testing and to pay damages to the students.

The ACLU’s Boyd said the rulings signal a growing reluctance by courts to permit such invasive searches of students.

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