U.S. Supreme Court May Strip Privacy Rights From Millions of U.S. Students

Press Release June 18, 2002
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Tony Newman at 510- 208-7711 or Shayna Samuels at 212- 547-6916

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide in the next week if junior high and high school students can be required to undergo drug testing in order to participate in extracurricular activities – a decision which would open the door for drug testing the more than 23 million students enrolled in public high schools across the country.

The Drug Policy Alliance represented the National Education Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and a coalition of other national organizations in arguing that the policy would not accomplish its alleged goals of deterring drug use — and that it would actually interfere with more sound prevention and treatment models. They also note that that involvement in extra-curricular activities actually helps to prevent students from using drugs.

Brief Amici Curiae In Support of Respondents

“By upholding this policy, the Court would penalize, not help, young people,” said Judy Appel, deputy legal director for the Drug Policy Alliance and counsel for the National Education Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics in their friend-of-the-court brief. “Now more than ever we – parents, teachers and schools – need to resist blanket drug testing schemes and opt for programs that will help our young people thrive.”

Most Court observers expect a decision to uphold the policy in question, under which students could be tested regardless of suspicion of drug use. At the case’s oral arguments in March, the justices appeared to side strongly with drug testing proponents.

Opponents of drug testing stressed, however, that even if the Court allows the policy, schools would be free to reject drug testing and instead opt for drug education models that effectively help protect students’ health. “Drug education programs that are rooted in trust and mutual respect between students and teachers have the most potential for success,” said Marsha Rosenbaum, Director of the Safety First Project for Drug Policy Alliance. “Parents and schools should actively oppose the implementation of drug testing policies that actually erode trust and respect.”

Currently, only three percent of the 15,000 school districts nationwide have opted to drug test students.

In their earlier statement to the court, drug testing opponents argued that “adult decision makers-parents, doctors, school boards, and courts-have a special obligation to promote policies that realistically promise to help young people-and to resist measures, however well-intentioned, that are inconsistent with that objective.”

The lower court supported the students, holding that “we do not believe that voluntary participation in an activity…;should reduce a student’s expectation of privacy in his or her body.” The school district appealed this decision to the Supreme Court.

In the case that will be decided -Board of Education of Pottawatomie County v. Earls-students from a school in Tecumseh, Oklahoma challenged the constitutionality of a school-wide drug testing policy that served as a prerequisite to student involvement in any non-athletic extracurricular activity. The school would have barred students from activities like Quiz bowl, Future Homemakers of America, chess club and choir if they refused to consent to a drug test. Students Lindsay Earls and Daniel James, concerned about jeopardizing their college admissions prospects if they refused to consent to a drug test, decided to challenge the school’s policy.

Parents from the Tecumseh, Oklahoma school opposed the drug testing policy, noting that drug testing creates an atmosphere of distrust and disrespect at school, and that it usurps parents’ authority to make decisions about how their children are raised.

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

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