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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Thursday
that public middle and high schools can require drug tests for
students in extracurricular activities such as choir or band without
violating their privacy rights.

The high court by a 5-4 vote upheld a program in Oklahoma that
required students who want to take part in after-school activities to
submit to random urinalysis.

The tests, required without any suspicion of drug use, covered
students in grades 7 to 12 who sign up for such activities as
cheerleading, choir, band, the academic team and the Future Farmers of
America club.

On the last day of their term, the justices overturned a U.S. appeals
court ruling that struck down the policy in the Tecumseh School
District in Pottawatomie County for violating constitutional privacy
protections against unreasonable searches.

"Because this policy reasonably serves the school district's important
interest in detecting and preventing drug use among its students, we
hold that it is constitutional," Justice Clarence Thomas said for the

A student who refuses to take the test or who tests positive more than
twice cannot take part in competition for the rest of the school year.
Students are tested at the start of the school year and then randomly
throughout the year, with names drawn every month.

Ruling Could Boost School Drug Tests

The ruling could boost school drug testing. Over the past three years,
about 5 percent of schools nationwide have required drug tests for
student athletes while about 2 percent have tested students in other
extracurricular activities.

The Supreme Court adopted the position urged by the Bush
administration in upholding the drug tests. At arguments, a Bush
administration lawyer said a school could even test all of its
students without violating their privacy rights.

The Supreme Court last addressed the issue in 1995, when it ruled that
public high schools and middle schools may force student athletes to
submit to drug tests. The Oklahoma case covered extracurricular
activities other than athletics.

In Tecumseh, a rural town about 40 miles (64 km) from Oklahoma City,
two students challenged the policy after its adoption in 1998,
claiming the school failed to show it had a problem with illegal drugs.

The school board defended the program and its authority to adopt tests
to deter and combat drug use.

Of the more than 500 students tested while the program was in effect
during part of two school years, only three students, all athletes,
tested positive. Two of the athletes also participated in other
extracurricular activities.

Justices John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O'Connor, David Souter and Ruth
Bader Ginsburg dissented.

Ginsburg said the program was unreasonable, capricious and even
"perverse" because it targets for testing a student population least
likely to be at risk for illicit drugs and their damaging effects.


Pubdate: Thu, 27 Jun 2002
Source: Reuters (Wire)
Copyright: 2002 Reuters Limited
Author: James Vicini
Note: Newshawks, please be watching for what the press does with this one.
Bookmark: Overload Warning (Drug Testing)
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