Why Student Drug Testing Does Not Work

Document Date: March 15, 2002

The ACLU is at the forefront of the fight to stop unconstitutional drug testing of students. “First, schools wanted to test student athletes, then it was students in extracurricular activities, and now it’s students competing in quiz bowls and performing in choir — where does it end?” said Graham Boyd, Director of the ACLU’s Drug Policy Litigation Project and lead counsel for the students in Board of Education v. Earls. “The district’s drug testing policy is more about symbolism than substance,” he added. “Tecumseh officials initiated urine testing without any evidence of a drug problem at the school and at a time when government reports show that teen drug use is on the decline nationally.”

The ACLU believes student drug testing policies to be both invasive and counter-productive. Involvement in extracurricular activities has been shown to be one of the most sure-fire ways to keep kids out of trouble. Additionally, the ACLU is against unconstitutional student drug testing because:

  • This policy violates students’ rights to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, as outlined by the Fourth Amendment. Forcing a student who is not suspected of wrongdoing to provide a urine sample, often in the presence of a school official, is an embarrassing and unwarranted invasion of privacy.
  • This policy presumes students to be guilty until proven innocent. Students who randomly are selected to undergo a drug test must prove their innocence by having a clean urine sample.

  • This policy does not conform to previous case law, including Vernonia School District v. Acton, which allows student drug testing only in situations where the individual student is suspected, or where a particular group of students is demonstrated to have a level of drug use of epidemic proportions. In this case, student athletes, who already had a significantly lowered expectation of privacy because they were subjected to physical examinations and showered in full view of other team members, were drug tested. The athletes also engaged in activities where drug-induced injuries posed a threat to student safety.

  • This policy is not an effective way of combating drug use in schools. A drug test is not likely to catch most drug users. Alcohol and most drugs are virtually undetectable unless the student is under the influence at the time the test is administered.

  • This policy may encourage students to use more dangerous drugs to avoid detection. Because marijuana is the most easily detectable drug, students may use harder drugs or binge drink, creating greater health risks.

  • This policy, when used to screen particular groups, such as students participating in extracurricular activities, may actually increase drug use. Students actively participating in extracurricular activities are less likely to do drugs because they simply do not have as much free time on their hands. A policy that randomly drug tests students involved in extracurricular activities may deter other students from joining these activities and thus give these students more free time in which they might turn to drugs.