U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Case on Mandatory Drug Testing of High School Students

Press Release March 17, 2002
Media Contact

Tony Newman at 510-208-7711 or Veronica Davison at 916-444-3751.

On Tuesday March 19, 2002, the United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Board of Education of Pottawatomie County v. Earls, a case challenging the suspicionless drug testing of students who participate in non-athletic extracurricular activities. This case could impact over 23 million young people enrolled in junior and senior public high schools across the county who could be involved in a variety of extracurricular academic, artistic, vocational, and social activities. Prominent physicians, educators, social workers, substance abuse treatment providers and child advocates oppose the policy, arguing that it deters students’ involvement in extracurricular activities, which is one of the most important factors in discouraging student drug use.

“For years Congress, educators and the PTA have worked to increase the number of young people participating in extracurricular activities,” said Daniel Abrahamson, director of legal affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “This policy erects a bar to participation.”

Abrahamson is counsel for the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Education Association, friends-of-the-court in support of the students. These organizations argue that “our experience-and a broad body of relevant research-convinces us that a policy like Tecumseh’s cannot work in the way it is hoped to and will, for many adolescents, interfere with more sound prevention and treatment processes.”

The Tecumseh, Oklahoma school which initiated the drug testing policy of drug testing all students as a prerequisite to their involvement in any non-athletic extracurricular activity – including debate, chess club, and choir – did so without any evidence of a drug problem at the school or any suspicion that the students tested under the policy were more likely to be using drugs. In fact, studies show that these students are less likely to abuse drugs.

Students from the school challenged the constitutionality of the school’s policy in court, arguing that it violated their Fourth Amendment Search and Seizure rights. These students, Lindsay Earls and Daniel James, would have been barred from activities like Quiz bowl and choir for refusing to consent to a drug test, jeopardizing their own college admissions prospects.

A lower court held that the drug testing policy violated the students’ constitutional rights, deciding “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.” The School District appealed the decision to the Supreme Court.

The ACLU will argue the case in the Supreme Court on behalf of the students and the Court will issue an opinion by June of this year. If the Court strikes down the drug testing policy, then only athletes will be subject to such suspicionless testing, but if the policy stands, all high school students across the country could be targeted by similarly invasive testing.

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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