Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Test Case: Drugs and Extracurricular Activities

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Test Case: Drugs and Extracurricular Activities

Article excerpt

Supreme Court rules

random drug testing

is constitutional

without identifiable

drug problem

In the case of Board of Education of Independent School Dist. No. 92 of Pottawatomie County v. Earls, No. 01-332 (U.S. 06/27/2002), the U.S.

Supreme Court ruled in favor of the constitutionality of a mandatory drug testing policy for all students who participated in competitive extracurricular activities. The decision reversed the federal circuit court's decision, which was the subject of the July 2001 NRPA Law Review. The facts of the case were as follows:

The city of Tecumseh, Okla., is a rural community located approximately 40 miles southeast of Oklahoma City. The school district administers all Tecumseh public schools. In the fall of 1998, the school district adopted the Student Activities Drug Testing Policy, which requires all middle and high school students to consent to drug testing in order to participate in any extracurricular activity.

Under the policy, students are required to take a drug test before participating in an extracurricular activity, must submit to random drug testing while participating in that activity and must agree to be tested at any time upon reasonable suspicion. The urinalysis tests are designed to detect only the use of illegal drugs, including amphetamines, marijuana, cocaine, opiates and barbituates, not medical conditions or the presence of authorized prescription medications.

During this time, Lindsay and James were students attending Tecumseh High School and either participating or planned to participate in non-athletic extracurricular activities. In their complaint, the students alleged that the policy constituted an unreasonable governmental search and seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment, which was applicable to the school board through the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The students claimed the school district had "failed to identify a special need for testing students who participate in extracurricular activities."

Applying the principles articulated by the Supreme Court in Vernonia School Dist. 47 J v. Acton, 515 U.S. 646 (1995), the federal district court rejected the students' claim that the policy was unconstitutional and granted summary judgment in favor of the school district. In Vernonia, the Supreme Court had upheld "the suspicionless drug testing of school athletes."

In this instance, the federal district court noted that "special needs exist in the public school context and that, although the school district did not show a drug problem of epidemic proportions, there was a history of drug abuse starting in 1970 that presented legitimate cause for concern." Moreover, the district court found 11 the drug problem among the student body is effectively addressed by making sure that the large number of students participating in competitive, extracurricular activities do not use drugs."

The students appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. The federal appeals court reversed, holding that the policy violated the Fourth Amendment. In reaching this conclusion, the appeals court held that a school "must demonstrate that there is some identifiable drug abuse problem among a sufficient number of those subject to the testing, such that testing that group of students will actually redress its drug problem." The appeals court concluded the policy was unconstitutional because the school district had failed to "demonstrate such a problem existed among Tecumseh students participating in competitive extracurricular activities." The Supreme Court granted the school board's petition to review this decision.

Search Standards

As cited by the Supreme Court, "[t]he Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." Moreover, the court acknowledged that "[s]earches by public school officials, such as the collection of urine samples, implicate Fourth Amendment interests. …

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