Justices to Hear Arguments Tomorrow in Landmark ACLU Challenge to Mandatory School Drug Testing

March 18, 2002 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON–In oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court tomorrow, the American Civil Liberties Union will urge the Justices to reject random urine testing of students involved in extracurricular activities.

“What is at stake in this case is nothing less than the privacy rights of 24 million public school students who could be subjected to intrusive and unnecessary urine testing,” said Graham Boyd, Director of the ACLU’s Drug Policy Litigation Project, who will be arguing the case before the Justices.

“If you make drug testing a rite of passage for an entire generation of students,” Boyd added, “you open the door to the government’s inevitable demands for DNA, medical records, financial information and other personal data.”

At issue in Board of Education v. Earls, No. 01-332, 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. An appeals court struck down the policy last March.

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.

“The school has no business interfering with our role as parents and forcing kids to prove their innocence,” said David Earls, a fourth-generation Oklahoman who will be attending tomorrow’s arguments with his wife Lori and their daughters.

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 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 Justices specifically did not address whether routine, suspicionless drug testing would be constitutional for either non-athletic or academic programs.

In rejecting the Oklahoma drug testing policy last March, a federal appeals court in Denver addressed that nuance, saying that “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.”

That view is shared by a wide range of groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Education Association, the National Association of Social Workers and the National Council on Drug and Alcohol Dependence, which have all filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of the ACLU’s case. These groups argued that the most effective way to keep students from using drugs is to engage them in after-school activities, and that establishing barriers to positive activities could harm, not help students.

The conservative Rutherford Institute and the libertarian CATO Institute have also filed briefs in support of the ACLU challenge.

For more information on the case, including links to legal papers, photos of the Earls family and other background, go to http://archive.aclu.org/issues/drugpolicy/cases/Earls.

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