Academic journal article Washington Law Review

York V. Wahkiakum School District and the Future of School Searches under the Washington State Constitution

Academic journal article Washington Law Review

York V. Wahkiakum School District and the Future of School Searches under the Washington State Constitution

Article excerpt

Abstract: In March 2008, the Supreme Court of Washington decided York v. Wahkiakum School District,1 a case involving mandatory, suspicionless drug testing of student athletes. The court struck down the testing regime, but, unable to agree on the grounds for invalidating the testing, issued three separate opinions. The lead opinion argued that suspicionless testing could never be countenanced under the Washington Constitution. Two concurrences argued that suspicionless testing could be permissible under certain circumstances pursuant to a variant of the federal special-needs doctrine. This Note reviews search-and-seizure protections under the United States and Washington constitutions, their application to school search law, and gives an overview of York. Finally, this Note argues that jurisprudential, democratic, and educational values all counsel in favor of following York's lead opinion and maintaining an individualized-suspicion requirement for school searches.

INTRODUCTION

In March 2008, a divided Supreme Court of Washington decided York v. Wahkiakum School District, a case that involved a suspicionless drugtesting regime in which the school district tested all of its studentathletes. While the court's nine justices unanimously struck down the program as a violation of article 1, section 7 (Section 7) of the Washington State Constitution, they did not produce a majority opinion.

The lead opinion, written by Justice Sanders and signed by three other justices, rejected the federal special-needs exception to the warrant requirement in the school context. Two concurrences, one written by Justice Madsen and signed by three other justices, and the other written by Justice James Johnson, argued that the State Constitution does allow for a special-needs exception in Washington schools, but that the facts before the court did not satisfy the requirements of that exception.

This split decision provides no clear answers to school districts, students, school administrators, practitioners, or lower courts as to whether a special-needs exception exists for Washington's public schools. Clear doctrine on this point is critically important for all stakeholders: students must know the parameters of their privacy rights, schools need to plan for drug control within clearly defined contours of the law, and the uniform administration of justice requires that lower courts have clear directives. This Note weighs the strengths and weaknesses of the various opinions and argues that the Supreme Court of Washington should adhere to a bright-line requirement of individualized suspicion for all school searches.

Part I compares the basic jurisprudence of the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment with Section 7 of the Washington State Constitution and shows that the state provision more vigorously protects the privacy of Washington residents than do the federal guarantees. Part II explains how Fourth Amendment rules apply to searches performed in schools and shows that they allow for suspicionless drug testing of students. Part III introduces Washington cases that have applied Section 7 in the school context, and demonstrates that the opinions have all relied upon individualized suspicion of wrongdoing when upholding invasions of students' privacy. Part IV presents York v. Wahkiakum School District, describing the underlying controversy and summarizing the court's three major opinions. Finally, Part V argues that Washington courts should follow the lead opinion's approach in York when evaluating school searches, as jurisprudential, democratic, and educational values all counsel in favor of an individualized-suspicion requirement.

I. THE WASHINGTON CONSTITUTION PROVIDES BROADER SEARCH-AND-SEIZURE PROTECTIONS THAN THE FOURTH AMENDMENT

A. The Fourth Amendment 's Prohibition on Unreasonable Searches Allows Many Warrantless Searches

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution contains two different clauses. …

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