Court To Decide School Drug Testing

supreme court graphic scotus AP

The Supreme Court agreed Thursday to decide if leaders of untroubled schools should have the same authority to test students for drugs as do schools with serious narcotics problems.

The high court will reconsider the subject of student drug screening in response to conflicting rulings over how far educators can go in keeping classrooms drug-free.

Justices upheld testing of athletes in 1995 in an Oregon school district, where drug-using jocks were blamed for discipline problems. The court stopped short, however, of endorsing blanket drug testing.

In the case accepted for review by the Supreme Court Thursday, an appeals court said a rural Oklahoma district violated the Constitution's ban on unreasonable searches by requiring random tests of students involved in extracurricular activities, such as the chorus.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the district had no justification for drug testing because it had few problems. Among the more serious incidents was a choir member caught with alcohol in a cough syrup bottle on a trip. The court struck down the district's policy, and school officials appealed to the Supreme Court.

"The issue presented is of major importance ... to all public schools in the nation which are responsible for the safety of the students under their supervision on a daily basis and must address drug use which threatens their safety," the school told the court in urging it to accept the appeal.

Lawyers for the school said the Supreme Court determined in the 1995 case that public schools are a special environment and students have a lower expectation of privacy.

"The mere entrance through the schoolhouse gates does not include the blanket invitation to subject students in America's public schools to drug tests," American Civil Liberties attorneys, representing three students, told the court.

The Fourth Amendment case turns on whether schools have to prove narcotics problems before testing children and if testing is appropriate only for students who are involved in potentially dangerous activities, such as sports.

"This issue is obviously a difficult one with which courts will continue to grapple," the appeals court had said.

Tecumseh school officials tested about 500 students from 1998 to 2000. Four tested positive for drugs. Officials in the community 40 miles from Oklahoma City said they use multiple methods to deter drug use, including surveillance cameras, drug education, drug dogs and the testing program.

Students who test positive must be counseled and quit using drugs to remain involved in the extracurricular activities.

The Supreme Court in 1989 upheld drug testing of railroad employees involved in accidents and U.S. Customs agents who enforce anti-drug laws or carry guns. In both decisions, the court cited public health and safety as justification.

The high court in 1997 struck down a Georgia law that required political candidates to take drug tests, partly because there was o evidence of a drug-abuse problem among the state's elected officials.

In the case accepted Thursday, the appeals court said there was no evidence of drug use among the Oklahoma students required to take tests - members of the academic team, choir, Future Farmers of America and Future Homemakers of America.

The Oregon case involved testing only of athletes, who officials said encouraged drug use by peers.

"Deterring drug use by our nation's schoolchildren is at least as important as enhancing efficient enforcement of the nation's laws against the importation of drugs," Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the 6-3 Oregon decision.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote in dissent that the ruling means millions of student athletes, "an overwhelming majority of whom have given school officials no reason whatsoever to suspect they use drugs at school, are open to an intrusive bodily search."

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg voted with the majority but said the ruling leaves undecided whether public schools can require all students to undergo drug tests.

The Oklahoma case is Board of Education of Independent School District No. 92 of Pottawatomie County v. Earls, 01-332.
The Supreme Court agreed Thursday to decide if leaders of untroubled schools should have the same authority to test students for drugs as do schools with serious narcotics problems.

The high court will reconsider the subject of student drug screening in response to conflicting rulings over how far educators can go in keeping classrooms drug-free.

Justices upheld testing of athletes in 1995 in an Oregon school district, where drug-using jocks were blamed for discipline problems. The court stopped short, however, of endorsing blanket drug testing.

In the case accepted for review by the Supreme Court Thursday, an appeals court said a rural Oklahoma district violated the Constitution's ban on unreasonable searches by requiring random tests of students involved in extracurricular activities, such as the chorus.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the district had no justification for drug testing because it had few problems. Among the more serious incidents was a choir member caught with alcohol in a cough syrup bottle on a trip. The court struck down the district's policy, and school officials appealed to the Supreme Court.

"The issue presented is of major importance ... to all public schools in the nation which are responsible for the safety of the students under their supervision on a daily basis and must address drug use which threatens their safety," the school told the court in urging it to accept the appeal.

Lawyers for the school said the Supreme Court determined in the 1995 case that public schools are a special environment and students have a lower expectation of privacy.

"The mere entrance through the schoolhouse gates does not include the blanket invitation to subject students in America's public schools to drug tests," American Civil Libertis attorneys, representing three students, told the court.

The Fourth Amendment case turns on whether schools have to prove narcotics problems before testing children and if testing is appropriate only for students who are involved in potentially dangerous activities, such as sports.

"This issue is obviously a difficult one with which courts will continue to grapple," the appeals court had said.

Tecumseh school officials tested about 500 students from 1998 to 2000. Four tested positive for drugs. Officials in the community 40 miles from Oklahoma City said they use multiple methods to deter drug use, including surveillance cameras, drug education, drug dogs and the testing program.

Students who test positive must be counseled and quit using drugs to remain involved in the extracurricular activities.

The Supreme Court in 1989 upheld drug testing of railroad employees involved in accidents and U.S. Customs agents who enforce anti-drug laws or carry guns. In both decisions, the court cited public health and safety as justification.

The high court in 1997 struck down a Georgia law that required political candidates to take drug tests, partly because there was no evidence of a drug-abuse problem among the state's elected officials.

In the case accepted Thursday, the appeals court said there was no evidence of drug use among the Oklahoma students required to take tests - members of the academic team, choir, Future Farmers of America and Future Homemakers of America.

The Oregon case involved testing only of athletes, who officials said encouraged drug use by peers.

"Deterring drug use by our nation's schoolchildren is at least as important as enhancing efficient enforcement of the nation's laws against the importation of drugs," Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the 6-3 Oregon decision.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote in dissent that the ruling means millions of student athletes, "an overwhelming majority of whom have given school officials no reason whatsoever to suspect they use drugs at school, are open to an intrusive bodily search."

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg voted with the majority but said the ruling leaves undecided whether public schools can require all students to undergo drug tests.

The Oklahoma case is Board of Education of Independent School District No. 92 of Pottawatomie County v. Earls, 01-332.


By Gina Holland
©MMI The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

Comments