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COURT OKS TECUMSEH DRUG TESTING

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A divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday in favor of the Tecumseh School
District, granting schools the right to drug-test middle school and high
school students in competitive after-school activities. The 5-4 decision
allows schools to test without proof of an epidemic drug problem and
expands a previous court decision that sanctioned random testing only of
student athletes. Justices wrote that giving schools an opportunity to rid
their campuses of drugs outweighs privacy rights.

The case centered on the Pottawatomie County district's 1998 drug-testing
policy. It called for random urine testing of students in competitive
activities such as band, choir, cheerleading and FFA.

A student who refused to take the test or who tested positive more than
twice could not compete for the rest of the school year. Students were
tested at the start of the school year and then randomly throughout the
year, with names drawn monthly.

Lindsay Earls, a former Tecumseh honor student who competed on an academic
quiz team and sang in the choir, challenged the policy with help from the
American Civil Liberties Union.

A self-described "goody two-shoes," Earls tested negative but called the
policy humiliating and accusatory and a violation of a constitutional
protection against unreasonable searches. She attends Dartmouth College.
"We find that testing students who participate in extracurricular
activities is a reasonably effective means of addressing the school
district's legitimate concerns in preventing, deterring and detecting drug
use," Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for himself, Chief Justice William H.
Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Stephen Breyer.

The court stopped short of allowing random tests for all public school
students, although several justices indicated they are interested in
answering that question.

"This is a sad day for students in America," Earls said Thursday from New
Hampshire. "The ruling is in the name of protecting students from drug use,
but I don't really see how that works."

Earls said some Tecumseh students dropped extracurricular activities to
protest the policy.

"I find it very disappointing that the court would find it reasonable to
drug-test students when all the experts, from pediatricians to teachers,
say that drug-testing is counterproductive," said Graham Boyd, Earls'
lawyer and director of drug policy litigation at the ACLU.

"The best way to prevent drug use is to involve them in extracurricular
activities," Boyd said.

Boyd said he hopes schools will find more effective ways of dealing with
drug use that don't usurp parents' rights and student privacy.

Justices found the privacy intrusion was minimal. They said the policy only
prevents students from participating in extracurricular activities and has
no academic or criminal consequences.

Breyer wrote that Tecumseh's policy offers teens a "nonthreatening reason"
to reject drug-use invitations.

Lori Earls, Lindsay Earls' mother, said dealing with drug use is a parental
responsibility, not the school's.

Tecumseh schools Superintendent Tom Wilsie expressed immediate relief the
case has ended. He said he expects the district to consider re-implementing
the twice-suspended policy. School board members will make the final
decision on any policy changes.

"We have to do something to try to make a dent in this drug situation we
have in our society," he said.

Wilsie said the district enjoyed community support for the policy even
before it was approved by school board members. However, several Tecumseh
residents filed a brief supporting Earls. David Earls, Lindsay's father,
said the issue has been divisive.

"The particular testing program upheld today is not reasonable, it is
capricious, even perverse," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the
dissenters.

In a brief, separate dissent, Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and David Souter
said they disagreed with the court's ruling in 1995 regarding random
testing of athletes.

Ginsburg rebutted the district's argument that like athletes, students
involved in other activities face health and safety risks.

"Notwithstanding nightmarish images of out-of-control flatware, livestock
run amok and colliding tubas disturbing the peace and quiet of Tecumseh,
the great majority of students the school district seeks to test are
engaged in activities that are not safety-sensitive to an unusual degree,"
she wrote.

Of the estimated 14 million American high school students, more than half
probably participate in some organized after-school activity, educators say.

Drug-testing became more popular after a 1995 ruling involving athletes
when an Oregon district demonstrated a widespread drug problem spearheaded
by athletes and that athletes had a lower expectation of privacy than other
students.

Wider testing remains sparse in Oklahoma and throughout the country, with
only about 5 percent of schools testing student athletes and only 2 percent
testing other students.

U.S. District Judge David Russell upheld the drug-testing policy in
Oklahoma City federal court but was overturned by the 10th Circuit Court of
Appeals in Denver. The district appealed to the Supreme Court.

Court documents show that during the 1998-99 school year and the first
semester of the 1999-2000 school year, as many as 800 Tecumseh students
participated in extracurricular activities. Only three students, all
athletes, tested positive.


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Pubdate: Fri, 28 Jun 2002
Source: Oklahoman, The (OK)
Copyright: 2002 The Oklahoma Publishing Co.
Contact: yourviews@oklahoman.com
Website: The Oklahoman
Details: Overload Warning
Author: Christy Watson
 
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