Drug testing in public schools unconstitutional

Six years after its controversial ruling allowing random drug testing, without suspicion, of high school athletes, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to consider whether such testing can be extended to students in non-athletic activities.

The case involved a suit brought against Pottawatomie County, Okla., school officials for their policy of randomly testing students participating in sports, the cheerleading squad, choir, band, Future Farmers of America, Future Homemakers of America and the academic team. Students who refused to submit to the tests were not allowed to participate in their clubs at regional, state or national levels.

The high court should not pass up the opportunity to reverse its abysmal 1995 ruling that public school student-athletes have a “lesser expectation of privacy” and may therefore be subjected to unwarranted drug testing. The Fourth Amendment’s search and seizure clause explicitly requires probable cause before any government agent – including a public school employee – executes a search. Prior to the 1995 case, the Supreme Court had repeatedly and consistently applied the Constitution to the public schools. Indeed, as Justice Robert H. Jackson wrote in one such case, “That they are educating the young for citizenship is reason for scrupulous protection of Constitutional freedoms of the individual, if we are not to strangle the free mind at its source and teach youth to discount important principles of our government as mere platitudes.”

Denying the full protections of the Bill of Rights in schools is particularly disturbing in light of states’ power – upheld by the Supreme Court – to force children to attend schools. If the high court expands the “limited expectation of privacy” rationale for random drug testing, it will reinforce the principle that the government may force citizens into a location or social status in which they have a lesser claim to rights than they would otherwise have had. This policy is normally reserved for convicted criminals sentenced to prison, and extending its reasoning to the nation’s millions of public school students is, as it was in 1995, an unreasonable and unconstitutional expansion of government power.

From a policy perspective, this approach makes even less sense, since, as the students in the current case argued, the clubs affected by the drug-testing requirement were the very organizations that have been shown to reduce drug use in the first place. The program in the case being appealed, for example, has screened 505 students. Only three have tested positive, and all three were sports participants, not members of the clubs to which the Supreme Court is being asked to extend its 1995 ruling.

This dangerous and self-defeating drug control plan does not deserve to be taken seriously, and it certainly does not deserve to be dignified by the Supreme Court.