06/28/2002 - Updated 12:09
court OKs drug testing for students
By Toni Locy, USA
TODAY's Joan Biskupic on the voucher ruling
WASHINGTON — School districts can
force the nation's 23 million middle and high school students
to take drug tests before they join the band, choir, chess
club or any other extracurricular activities where they
compete with other schools, the U.S. Supreme Court said
Thursday. By a 5-to-4 vote, the court upheld an Oklahoma
school district's efforts to keep students from using illegal
drugs by emphasizing the "custodial" duties that
schools have in lieu of parents to protect "the safety
and health" of students.
The ruling reflects
concern about the nation's public schools. In a recent USA
TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll, 70% of adults said schools should be
allowed to do drug tests on students who participate in
The court's decision broadens a 1995
ruling that allowed urinalysis of student athletes by
expanding testing for activities that can be key to students'
high school years. After the 1995 ruling, only about 5% of the
nation's schools began drug-testing programs for athletes,
mainly because of the cost of such programs.
Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for
the majority, said students who join the band or chess club
have limited expectations of privacy. The intrusive nature of
the tests is "not significant," he wrote. Thomas
also said schools do not need proof of a serious drug problem
before starting to test.
"This gives kids a reason to say
no to drugs," says David Evans, of the Drug-Free Schools
Coalition, a group of educators and parents.
In her dissent, Justice Ruth Bader
Ginsburg said the ruling is "capricious, even
perverse" because the policy targets students who are the
least likely to use drugs.
Graham Boyd, an American Civil
Liberties Union lawyer who argued the case for the policy's
opponents, called the ruling "an unprecedented attack on
Boyd does not expect many schools to
start testing. "There will be some schools that will do
it, but I think most will not because they will realize that
it's a waste of money," he says.
The key issues in the case revolved
around the Fourth Amendment's guarantee of a right
"against unreasonable searches and seizures." In
prior cases, the court has said that drug testing is a type of
search that requires a warrant or evidence of wrongdoing. But
the court has ruled that schools are different because
educators need to maintain order.
In 1998, the Pottawatomie County School
District required students who wanted to participate in
competitive extracurricular activities to submit to drug tests
before they joined the groups, and later at random. Students
who fail are not reported to police but referred to
counseling. They also are not banned from the activities for
the school year until they fail three times.
The policy affected the band, choir,
academic team, Future Farmers of America and other groups
engaged in competitive activities after school