Many schools have instituted methods of random drug testing as a way of curbing the growing drug problem in the United States. The idea behind this practice is that student knowledge of the possibility of drug testing will act as a deterrent from drug usage. It is also instituted to protect the general population from student behavior colored by drug use. This relatively new policy is not without precedent, as drug testing in schools has been practiced on smaller scales in different departments (such as athletics) for over a decade.
The methods of these small-scale testing may give some evidence regarding whether such methods are acceptable to the American public. While one school of thought has been that these methods are in fact desirable and effective, others have considered this policy to be an infringement upon the civil rights of these students. An examination of these alternative viewpoints will demonstrate that random drug testing in schools is a necessary practice that does not violate the civil rights of students.
In 1995, it became the Supreme Court ruling in a case known as Vernonia that student athlete teams could be made subject to mandatory drug testing (Brunet, 20; Missouri, 2). This could occur whether or not the individuals that make up that team were suspected of any involvement in drug use (“Test You Can’t”). In a more recent case known as Earls, schools were given even more leeway in testing these students, as club and school societies also gained the right to perform drug tests on students as a requirement for entrance (Brunet, 20; “Test You Can’t”).
Supporters have argued against the invasive nature of this practice, but some have considered evidence that indicates an increase in the invasiveness of testing in more recent years. Some searches involve the routine invasion of lockers and backpacks. Many also involve the use of scent-seeking dogs, strip searches, along with the routine urine testing. Another “alarming” thing mentioned by those who dissent to drug testing is the alleged inclusion of students as early as kindergarten level in the drug testing and searches (“Test You Can’t”).
What these dissenters also argue is that drug testing results are quite often inaccurate. They argue further that no proof exists that drug testing deters students from participating in drug use (Grim). What it does do, in their opinion, is deter students from participating in these positive activities as they are unwilling to go through the rigors that are usually involved in testing. These dissenters argue that the time in which drug use generally occurs (between 3 p. m. and 6 p. m.
) makes it likely that such deterrents to participation in extra curricular activities only increases drug use (“Test You Can’t”). Above all, these persons pose arguments that the use of drug testing in schools presents an intrusion into the privacy of students and a violation of Fourth Amendment rights, which guarantee no unreasonable searches and seizures to citizens of the United States. On the state level, some courts have agreed with these dissenters and offer more stringent protection to students regarding drug testing.
These courts do so on the constitutional ground that students should not be subject to searches and seizures without reasonable justification for the invasion. One such example can be found in a judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, which blocked a school from implementing a random policy of drug testing to all “students who participate in athletics, extracurricular activities, or park their cars at their high school” (“Court Blocks Implementation”).
The lawyer representing the plaintiffs in the case reported that no evidence of extensive drug use existed at the school to warrant that kind of invasive testing. However, there are several reasons why drug testing not only elicits positive results but does not violate the Fourth Amendment civil rights of students. One such reason is that in many schools evidence does point toward the use of drugs and therefore the necessity of drug testing (Whitman & Farmer, 57).
In fact, it has been reported by then governor Christine Todd Whitman and her team that between 1992 and 1998 in New Jersey, a significant increase in high school student drug use existed for the categories of marijuana and other substances (such as cocaine, heroine, inhalants, etc. ) (p. 58). Other school districts have noted similar problems. The Virginia School Board reports on the efforts against drug use in its division: “The school, in response to an increasing drug problem, had developed special classes and speakers’ programs regarding the problems of drug abuse.
Despite these efforts, students continued to glamorize drug use and classroom disruptions increased three-fold” (Virginia Board of Education, 1). Since civil rights are weakened in the face of real threat to human safety, data such as these necessitate the implementation of drug testing and precludes its being considered an invasion of civil rights. The idea behind the prohibition of searches and seizures has to do with the singling out of persons for no particular reason in order to harass them about something for which no probable cause exists. The above data demonstrate that reasons do exist.
Furthermore, the fact that random searches are to be done on students differs from unconstitutional searches in that all students are made aware that they will be subject to this policy at some time or another as a condition of entering into the school system. When a student is summoned to be tested, he or she is not taken as an individual but as a group of persons who had subscribed to a particular extra curricular activity. Besides, persons on drugs often elicit behaviors that may reduce the randomness and perceived unreasonableness of their testing.
Finally, the act of testing is never a malicious one intended to indict the student, but merely a preventative or curative measure to protect the student from the harm of drug use. Another consideration to be made concerning the use of random drug testing is its comparability to the random searches that take place at airports. Though this might be considered inconvenient to the person being searched, the necessity of the practice is one that Americans can understand. This understanding leads to an agreement of the public to engage in these searches as a method of protecting them.
Such an agreement can be reached in schools (Virginia Board of Education, 1) Student searches and drug testing are to be seen in a similar light, as the use of drugs by other students on a sports team has the potential to prove very harmful to other team members. The use of random testing as a preventative measure refrains from being a civil rights violation, as the practice cannot be seen as unreasonable, since some students do use drugs and as a result pose a threat to others. A return to the Vernonia case will also demonstrate the constitutionality of drug testing.
This case involved a parent whose son was refused a spot on the team because of his non-adherence to drug testing policy. The parent challenged the policy of drug testing as one that constituted a violation of her son’s civil rights. The rebuttal to this accusation by the United States Supreme Court involved the idea that the school had a definite and definable interest in preventing the use of drugs on its sports teams. The decision of the Court was based on a three-pronged argument. These included 1.
“The nature of the privacy interest on which the search intruded” (Missouri, 1). 2. The type of intrusion involved in the search 3. The type of interest that was necessarily to be exhibited on the part of the government concerning both the possibility of drug use and the school’s response to this possibility. First of all, the interest of the student in privacy is examined and found to be lower than the interest granted to the private individual. A private citizen is seen as one who is involved in activities that are not publicly or organizationally sponsored.
Students who assemble to learn in public arenas (including private schools) have the potential to affect others located in the same place. It is for this reason, notes the Court, that it is not considered a violation of privacy for students to be required to submit immunization records and documentation of physical examinations upon their entry to academic institutions. It is also for this reason that random testing within these arenas is not considered a violation of constitutional rights. Students who join clubs within the school relinquish even more of their privacy interests.
Student athletes, for example, assume a greater degree of openness as there exists “an element of communal undress inherent in athletic participation” (Missouri, 2). Because some types of drug use involve bodily piercing that might show up in such locker-room moments and have the potential to influence other students, drug testing presents another way in which such students do (and should) relinquish privacy interests. Since all students at schools are expected to participate in some kind of gym activity, regardless of their student-athlete status, they all “have reason to expect” a degree of intrusion into their privacies (Missouri, 2).
Secondly, the Court examines precisely how these drug tests are carried out in order to determine the nature or character of the intrusion. It has been determined that the conditions and methods of collecting samples differ very little from the conditions that prevail in public restrooms. Therefore, (in light of the previous arguments against the students’ privacy interest) the use of drug tests can hardly be deemed more in violation of students’ civil privacy rights that public restroom use. Thirdly, the Court attempted to determine how immediate is the concern of the government in having drug-free students.
It concludes that the fact that the school board and the government (as well as the other students) have an interest in the sobriety of other members of the school demonstrates the constitutionality of random drug testing. Since the School District of Vernonia began the policy after seeing an increase in drug use among students, the current high in drug use among United States students as a whole also justifies the employment of random drug testing in all schools around the country. Such a practice could not be considered a violation of student civil rights.
The United States Supreme Court has also been involved in rulings concerning students who participate in extra curricular activities apart from sports (Missouri, 3). One such ruling involved the examination of a requirement by an Oklahoma school that all such students submit to urinalysis tests. In addition to the previously mentioned arguments for drug testing, the Court also noted the fact that only employees who are considered as having a genuine need to know are ever allowed access to the information gained from these students through testing.
Test results are also never given to members of the law enforcement arena. Finally, students are allowed to fail the test twice without public knowledge of their implication in drug use, as only on the third try are these students ever suspended from their activities (3). In this way it can be seen that students privacy rights are guarded closely even during mandatory drug testing. These facts cast some doubt on the dissenting arguments made earlier. It is argued that tests are often inaccurate and implies that these inaccuracies are usually harmful to students.
While the possibility for inaccuracy cannot be ruled out, it is clear that allowing students to fail the test twice compensates for much of the inaccuracy that can be attributed to the test. Therefore, any student who fails the test three times can reasonably be considered to have some form of controlled substance in his or her system. Any use of prescription drugs or other legal substance would have been detected and validated in the first two tests, so that the likelihood of detecting only guilty students increases on the third try.
An important idea related to this is the fact that this third drug test, which proves to be the implicating one, cannot be considered an unreasonable intrusion into the student’s privacy, since the two previous failures do give administrators reason to suspect the student of illicit activity. Such a test would therefore represent no violation of the student’s civil or constitutional rights, as reasonable suspicion would exist. Arguments that drug testing does not deter drug use may well hold some semblance of truth.
However, the issue of whether or not this policy violates the rights of students rests on the determination of the threat that intoxicated or “stoned” persons pose to the other students on a high school campus. The Supreme Court has ruled on more than one occasion that the enrolment of students in a high school places them within a community in which safety concerns make it necessary for certain heightened measures of security to be taken. Since students can be required to provide immunization and other medical records, it is also acceptable for them to be required to take drug tests.
The reasons for all these measures are the same, as they all seek to uphold the protection of other students from disease, bodily harm, or adverse psychological influences. Furthermore, intrusion on student privacy is usually no greater than that occasioned in the use of public facilities, and results of any drug test are never made available to persons who have no necessity of knowing the information. The plethora of reasons cited and substantiated, therefore, suggest that random drug testing of students does not violate their civil rights.