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COURT'S STANCE ON SEARCHES EVOLVES

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WASHINGTON, June 27 - It was not until 1985 that students had any rights to
be free of random searches in public schools. Principals and teachers were
thought of as surrogate parents, and thus could legally order a student to
open a locker or turn out a backpack, even if there was no reason to
suspect a problem.

But the Supreme Court ruled that year that school administrators were not
really in loco parentis or acting in place of parents. The school staff
members were, in fact, agents of the government, the court said, and were
bound by the constitution's limits against intrusive and unreasonable searches.

The court's view has evolved over the years, and the reasoning behind
today's ruling all but restores the situation to what it was before 1985,
with school officials able to conduct random searches of students to
maintain order.

The 5-to-4 decision today upheld the right of the Pottawatamie School board
in Tecumseh, Okla., to conduct random drug tests on any student who is
involved in an extracurricular activity, estimated to be the majority of
the school population.

The ruling was an extension of a 1995 case in which the court first
substantially increased the authority of school officials to conduct
searches. At that time, it said student athletes could be randomly tested
for drugs. Today's ruling explicitly expanded those who are covered from
the likes of the football and tennis teams to those who belong to the
Spanish Club and the school's Future Farmers of America chapter.

Legal scholars and even some of the justices said the logic behind the
expansion almost certainly meant that officials may now, without running
afoul of the constitution, randomly search any student.

Prof. Yale Kamisar, of the Michigan and San Diego University law schools,
said the reasoning of the five-member majority meant that there was little
question that a program of testing all students would be approved by the court.

During the oral argument in the case in March, Justice David J. Souter said
that any decision extending drug testing to those involved in
extracurricular activities would inevitably allow the testing to be schoolwide.

Surveys have shown that about 5 percent of schools nationwide have
performed drug tests on student athletes and an additional 2 percent have
been testing students involved in other extracurricular activities.

It was unclear whether many school districts would now put programs in place.

"Schools now have the go ahead to do this, but many won't because it is so
costly," said Michael Carr, spokesman for the National Association of
Secondary School Principals. He said that drug testing kits typically cost
$30 to $60 per individual.

His greater worry, Mr. Carr added, is that students who use drugs will now
avoid extracurricular activities.

Edwin Darden, a senior staff attorney for National School Boards
Association which sought the authority for increased testing, said, "This
is not the kind of thing that will become a standard among school districts."

Mr. Darden also cited the cost of drug testing as an inhibiting factor. He
praised the ruling, saying, "There doesn't have to be a full-scale drug
abuse problem. What that says is you can preemptively and penetratively act
against drugs and it gives the local community the right to make that
decision."

Graham Boyd of the American Civil Liberties Union, who had argued against
the searches before the Supreme Court, said, "Every available study
demonstrates that the single best way to prevent drug use among students is
to engage them in extracurricular activities." Mr. Boyd said he hoped that
"school boards will follow the advice and pediatricians and other experts
by sticking to solutions that work."

One group delighted by the ruling was the Drug and Alcohol Industry
Association, which expects a surge in testing among the nation's schools.
The association, a coalition of private drug-testing companies, had already
scheduled a workshop in Washington on July 18 for school board members and
principals on how to use dug-testing programs.

"We've heard from a lot of school people who wanted to put testing programs
in place but were waiting to see how the court ruled in this case," said
Laura E. Shelton, the association's executive director.

"We are so excited to be able to present this much-needed information to
testing and education professionals. Drug and alcohol testing has shown to
be a very effective means of deterring drug use, and the nation's children
need to live healthy and drug and alcohol free lives."


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Pubdate: Fri, 28 Jun 2002
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2002 The New York Times Company
Contact: letters@nytimes.com
Website: Breaking News, World News & Multimedia
Details: Overload Warning
Author: Neil A. Lewis
Bookmark: Overload Warning (Drug Testing)
Bookmark: Overload Warning (Youth)
 
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