High Court to Rule on Student Drug Tests; ACLU Says Decision Could Set New Limits in War on Drugs

November 8, 2001 12:00 am

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NEW YORK--The American Civil Liberties Union said today that the Supreme Court's decision to review the constitutionality of random urine testing of students involved in extracurricular activities may lead to a sharper line being drawn on when and why students can be tested.

""This case gives the Court the opportunity to draw the line at random testing of students,"" said Graham Boyd, Director of the ACLU's Drug Policy Litigation Project, which brought the case.

""Specifically, the Court will have to decide whether a school district can randomly drug test students without any individualized suspicion or evidence of a significant drug problem in the school and without any reason for a special concern about student safety,"" he added.

The last time the Court looked at drug testing of students was in 1995, when the Justices upheld random drug testing for student athletes in Oregon. But the Court's finding, Boyd said, was based on evidence of rampant drug abuse at the school and was targeted at football players who could face serious injuries on the field.

The Court also emphasized that the athletes had uniquely lower privacy expectations, based on their being subject to physical exams and communal showering and disrobing. The Justices specifically did not address whether routine, suspicionless drug testing would be constitutional for either non-athletic or academic programs.

Boyd also noted that the Supreme Court rejected random drug searches twice last term, in cases involving pregnant women and highway checkpoints.

At issue in the current case is 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. 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 said the district had no justification for drug testing because there was little evidence of a problem. "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," the Court said.

State courts in Indiana, New Jersey, Oregon and Pennsylvania have expressed similar reservations about such policies in the last few years. And earlier this year, a federal judge rejected mandatory drug testing for all students in grades seven through 12 in Lockney, Texas. That case was not appealed.

The case is Board of Education of Independent School District No. 92 of Pottawatomie County v. Earls, 01-332.

For more information on the case, including links to legal papers and other background, go to http://archive.aclu.org/issues/drugpolicy/cases/Earls%20v%20Tecumseh/Earls_v_Tecumseh.html.

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