A Test You Can't Study For - Special Web Feature on Student Drug Testing

A Test You Can't Study For

To address the problem of drug abuse among our nation's youth, more and more schools are turning to random student drug testing. The theory is that if students know that they might be drug tested at any time, they will "just say no" to drugs. Is random drug-testing the magical solution to our schools' drug problems?

The Supreme Court ruled in 1995 in a case called Vernonia that schools could test entire teams of student athletes, even if individual team members are not suspected of using drugs. If you want to play, you have to say okay to drug tests. Now, in the Earls case, a case that could impact 24 million public school students across the country, the Court has ruled that other competitive, non-athletic extracurricular activities like the choir and debate teams may also be subjected to drug testing.

In recent years, schools have become increasingly intrusive in their searches for drugs and weapons. Some now routinely search students' lockers and backpacks, bring in drug-sniffing dogs, and even strip-search students. Incidentally, these searches are not just limited to high school students. One school in New Mexico had classroom "lockdowns" where drug dogs were brought in to sniff students as young as the 5th grade, and another school in South Dakota has been bringing in dogs to search kids in kindergarten. Urine testing is part of this alarming trend to treat all students as suspects, no matter how young or innocent.

Yet, studies show that drug testing is frequently inaccurate, and there is no proof that drug testing has a deterrent effect on drug use. Schools that require students to take drug tests in order to join sports teams or other after-school groups are discouraging young people from participating in activities that have important academic & social benefits. And considering that most teenage drug use occurs between 3 - 6pm, the very time during which most extracurricular activities take place, it seems counterproductive to be putting up any barriers for students to be engaging in after-school activities. If schools are really committed to keeping our kids off drugs, then they should be trying to engage them as much as possible in school-related activities. (See reports by the U.S. Department of Education/Department of Justice and Department of Health & Human Services).

Instead, policies like random drug testing force students to prove their innocence, strip our youth of their Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, deter participation in extracurricular activities, create incentives for kids to switch to more dangerous drugs that don't show up in their urine, and foster greater mistrust between school administrators and students.

And random drug testing miserably fails to address our nation's number one drug problem: alcohol.

Being tough on drug abuse requires being smart about drugs. We need to find solutions that work and not implement proposals that are merely symbolic.

The ACLU is at the forefront of the fight to stop random drug testing of students. We have been challenging schools across the country, which have been invading our students' privacy and Fourth Amendment rights in the name of the "War on Drugs."

If your school is conducting random drug testing, it may be violating your constitutional rights. If such a program is now in place, or is planned for the future, you can take action. 
Remember, students do have rights!


ACLU Related Materials

Just Say No To Random Drug Testing: A Guide for Students

Drug Testing Fails Our Youth: An Action Pack
for Parents

Fact Sheet: What the Experts Say on Student Drug Testing

Why Student Drug Testing Does Not Work

"Drug Testing: A Bad Investment"

Student Organizing Manual, 2000


ACLU Legal Materials

Earls v. Board of Education

Vernonia School District 47J v. Acton et ux

Student Drug Testing: Relevant Case Law

Student Drug Testing Cases Across the Nation

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