Ignoring Expert Advice, Supreme Court Expands School Drug Testing of Students

June 27, 2002 12:00 am

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NEW YORK-The Supreme Court today narrowly upheld school drug testing of students involved in extracurricular activities, a decision the American Civil Liberties Union said will only set up more barriers to keeping children off drugs.

“Every available study demonstrates that the single best way to prevent drug use among students is to engage them in extra-curricular activities,” said Graham Boyd, Director of the ACLU’s Drug Policy Litigation Project, who argued the case before the Justices in March.

“The Court has now endorsed school policies setting up barriers to these positive activities, which is dangerous both for the Constitution and safety of America’s children,” Boyd said.

The ACLU said the ruling also sounds an ominous note for the future of privacy in America.

“If drug testing now becomes a rite of passage for an entire generation of students, the door will be cracked open wider to the government’s inevitable demands for DNA, medical records, financial information and other personal data,” Boyd said.

At issue in Board of Education v. Earls, No. 01-332, was an Oklahoma School District policy that required a urine test of all students in grades 7-12 who sign up for non-athletic extracurricular activities.

Today’s ruling reverses a federal appeals court in Colorado, which struck down the policy as unconstitutional in March 2001. The decision is the broadest drug testing the court has yet permitted for young people who are not under any suspicion of wrongdoing. It applies to students who join competitive after-school activities or teams, a category that includes many if not most middle-school and high-school students.

The case is the culmination of a landmark legal challenge brought by the ACLU on behalf of Lindsay and Lacey Earls and Daniel James, all of Tecumseh — a small town in Oklahoma 30 miles southeast of the state capital — who said that refusal to take the intrusive test would mean being shut out of important school activities like Quiz Bowl, choir and Future Farmers of America.

“I’m in college now, but I’m really sad that every other school kid in America might have to go through a humiliating urine test like I did just to join the choir or the debate team,” said Lindsay Earls, a lead plaintiff in the case. “I also worry that as a result of this decision more employers are going to start drug testing, and that I’ll always be under suspicion for something I’ve never done and never intend to do.”

Notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s ruling, school districts around the country have rejected drug testing. Just last night, a school district in Dublin, Ohio repealed its two-year drug-testing program for student athletes, citing mixed reviews about its effectiveness.

The move underscores the opinion of doctors, social workers and education professionals – many of whom submitted friend-of-the-court briefs supporting the ACLU challenge – that students and student athletes should not be singled out for involuntary screening for drugs.

The groups, which include the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Education Association and the National Association of Social Workers, cite the importance of confidentiality and autonomy for adolescents and the lack of accuracy in detecting certain drugs.

In an effort to assist students who may now face school drug testing as a result of today’s ruling, the ACLU has created a guide for students, “Just Say No to Random Drug Testing,” online at http://archive.aclu.org/issues/drugpolicy/say_no.html.

The guide explains how students can help convince their schools that drug testing is the wrong approach to keeping kids off drugs.

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