Students challenge extra-curricular drug-testing

When Lindsay Earls and Daniel James made the decision to participate in a wide variety of extracurricular activities at Tecumseh High School, they intended to use the experience and class credits gained to increase their chances of attending competitive colleges. Instead, both students found themselves targets of suspicionless drug testing. Together they filed a federal lawsuit against the Tecumseh Public School District as well as the Board of Education claiming that the Student Activities Drug Testing Policy violates their Constitutional Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

The policy requires students in selected extracurricular activities to have a consent form read, signed, and dated by their parent or custodial guardian, coach or sponsor, as well themselves. The form requires the student to agree to provide a urine sample in several different situations. First, the student must submit to and pass an initial drug screening in order to participate in the activity. They must also consent to a random screening, as well as a urine test upon reasonable suspicion by a school administrator, coach or sponsor. The suit does not object to students being tested upon reasonable suspicion, rather to them being tested initially and randomly.

The Policy was initiated in 1998 after two isolated incidents involving drugs at Tecumseh’s middle school. The action was taken after parents complained to the school board about the incidents, imploring the board to take some action to combat drug use among students. Yet at the time, there was no evidence that Tecumseh High School students who participate in extra-curricular activities had a sudden increase in drug and alcohol consumption.

Students who participate in athletics are also subject to the policy. However, the Supreme Court justified such practice based on the belief that athletics have a lower expectation of privacy with requirements such as communal undressing and bathing, as well as a higher risk of injury from possible substance abuse.

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The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution reads that people have the right to “Be secure in their persons… against unreasonable searches and seizures…” Based on this protection, Earls and James feel that it is unreasonable to search them for drug use without any reason to suspect they have used drugs.

They also believe that the Drug Testing Policy violates their rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment, which states,”nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

the drug testing policy effectively applies to parts of a public school’s core legally required function — the education of its students.”

Earls and James may not participate in extra-curricular activities where testing is required until they submit to the testing. Not only are these students being denied of enriching themselves through participation in activities, the policy also indirectly harms their ability to attend competitive universities. Even students with excellent grades are routinely denied admission to competitive universities if they do not have a wide variety of extracurricular activities to show they are well-rounded students.

The Supreme Court recently declined to review an Indiana high school’s policy drug testing for extra-curricular activities. The ACLU stated that this case is more significant because the drug-testing policy goes beyond extra-curricular activities by indirectly affecting the courses of a student. Lindsay Earles was forced to take a drug test when she enrolled in the music class because the class requires participation in the choir, which is an extra-curricular activity.

The lawsuit said, “For instance, a student can take the choir class only if she also participates in the extracurricular choir activities. Thus the drug testing policy effectively applies to parts of a public school’s core legally required function — the education of its students.”

The district suspended enforcement of the drug policy after learning of the lawsuit but the final outcome will play out in court. While they wait, Earles and James could apply a Libertarian solution by “privatizing” the activities that require drug testing. If Earles would like to sing in the choir, she could start her own and encourage other students to resign from the government’s choir.

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