U.S. Supreme Court Strips Privacy Rights From Millions of U.S. Students

Press Release June 26, 2002
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Tony Newman at (510) 208-7711 or Shayna Samuels at (212) 547-6916

A sharply divided Supreme Court ruled today that all junior high and high school students can be required to undergo drug testing in order to participate in extracurricular activities – a decision which opens the door for drug testing the more than 23 million students enrolled in public high schools across the country. Drug education experts, pediatricians and privacy advocates expressed strong criticism of the ruling.

“The court’s decision is both foolhardy and dangerous in sending exactly the wrong message to America’s children — that they have no right to privacy, and that schools can prioritize the cleanliness of one’s urine over academic achievement and participation in student life,” 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.

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. The Alliance also notes that involvement in extra-curricular activities actually helps to prevent students from using drugs.

Opponents of drug testing stressed that even though the Court has allowed the policy, schools are still 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 was 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 intended to bar 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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