Continuing National Trend, Appeals Court Rejects Oklahoma School Drug Testing Policy

March 22, 2001 12:00 am

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Thursday, March 22, 2001

DENVER–In the latest in a series of federal and state court victories, an appeals court here struck down as unconstitutional an Oklahoma school district’s urine drug testing policy, signaling a growing reluctance to permit such invasive searches of students.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the case on behalf of two students at Tecumseh High School and which has been successful in similar cases, said today that this and other recent victories show that the “tide has turned” against school drug testing.

“Pediatricians and social workers oppose drug testing because it actually fails to prevent drug abuse,” said Graham Boyd, Director of the ACLU’s Drug Policy Litigation Project, who argued today’s case before the appeals court. “Now the courts are making clear that broad drug testing also violates students’ rights.”

At issue in the Oklahoma case was a policy that required a urine test of all students in grades 7-12 who sign up for non-athletic extracurricular activities. The ACLU brought the case on behalf of sisters Lindsay and Lacey Earls and Daniel James, all of Tecumseh — a small town 30 miles southeast of Oklahoma City — who said that being shut out of activities like Quiz Bowl and choir would mean a poor showing on their college applications.

In striking down the Oklahoma policy, a 2-1 majority of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals here said “we do not believe that voluntary participation in an activity, without more, should reduce a student’s expectation of privacy in his or her body.”

Earlier this month, a federal district court in Texas struck down a school district’s mandatory drug testing policy — the first of its kind in the nation to apply to every student — in a case brought by the ACLU on behalf of Larry Tannahill and his 12-year-old son Brady against the Lockney Unified School District.

That same court rejected a similar policy on December 7, 2000, in a case originating out of Tulia, Texas. The Tulia case has been appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court; school officials in the ACLU case in Lockney have vowed to appeal to that court as well.

State courts in Indiana, Oregon, New Jersey and Pennsylvania have also recently rejected suspicionless drug testing of students, and school districts in Maryland, Washington and elsewhere have discontinued such policies when confronted with challenges.

Experts in the fields of medicine and social science agree that school drug testing policies like Tecumseh’s are the wrong approach to preventing drug use.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed in support of the Oklahoma students, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Public Health Association, and the National Association of Social Workers said that “Tecumseh’s policy does far more harm than good to the community’s young people — rendering them, for example, more likely to drop out of school, less likely to be admitted to college, more likely to become involved with crime, and more likely to use drugs.”

Boyd noted that recent court cases involving challenges to drug testing of pregnant women and welfare applicants have also been met with skepticism by the courts. Just yesterday, for example, the United States Supreme Court struck down a South Carolina policy that subjected pregnant women to surreptitious drug screens of their urine, the results of which were turned over to law enforcement authorities.

The appeals court’s decision is online at http://www.kscourts.org/ca10/cases/2001/03/00-6128.html

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