Texas Court Strikes Down First-Ever Mandatory School Drug Testing Policy

March 2, 2001 12:00 am

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Friday, March 2, 2001

LUBBOCK, TX–A federal judge here has 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 American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a father and his 12-year-old son.

“The court’s ruling sends an important message to school districts across the nation that they cannot treat students like suspects,” said Graham Boyd, Director of the ACLU’s Drug Policy Litigation Project.

“The Texas policy was unique because it targeted every single student, not just athletes or participants in other activities,” Boyd added. “The court agreed that the school went too far with this unprecedented policy.”

Larry Tannahill lost his job and became an outcast in his Texas hometown of Lockney after suing his son’s school over the rule. Someone even shot his dog with a paint gun and left a note saying, “Next time it won’t be your dog.”

Tannahill said he knew his son Brady would pass the drug test but opposed it on principle.

Under the policy, any student who tests positive or declines to be tested is subject to punishment, including in-school suspension and suspension from extracurricular activities. Unlike other policies that have passed constitutional muster, the court noted in its opinion, the Lockney School District tested all students, not just athletes, and failed to present evidence of serious drug use in the school.

In his ruling, federal district judge Sam R. Cummings said that he understood the motives of the school district, but found that its mandatory, “suspicionless drug testing” violated the Fourth Amendment.

“Such an intrusion also comes at a great price to citizens’ constitutionally guaranteed rights to be secure in their ‘persons, houses, papers and effects,'” he said in a ruling issued late yesterday.

Significantly, Judge Cummings cited case law from the U.S. Supreme Court and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in rejecting the policy. “Numerous cases have also made it clear that general concerns about maintaining drug-free schools or desires to detect illegal conduct are insufficient as a matter of law,” the opinion said.

That finding, said the ACLU’s Boyd, could make it difficult for the school district to appeal the case to the Fifth Circuit, which includes Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Tannahill and his wife Traci were the only parents in the school district who refused to permit officials to test their 12-year-old son for drug, alcohol and tobacco use.

Tannahill himself, as well as his father and grandfather, was a student at the school his son now attends. Tannahill said that many of his neighbors have told him privately that they oppose the policy but don’t feel they can speak out.

The court’s opinion is online at http://www.txnd.uscourts.gov, under “Notable Cases.”

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