Kids under suspicion: Random drug tests discourage extra-curriculars


Published March 22, 2002

If March 19 oral arguments are any indication, the United States Supreme Court appears ready to authorize a dramatic expansion in drug testing of public school students.

In Independent School District No. 92 of Pottawatomie County, Oklah. v. Earls, School District No. 92 seeks to overturn a lower court decision that ruled one of its policy unconstitutional. The policy mandates, as a condition of participation in a variety of extracurricular activities, that middle and high school students agree to submit to random, suspicionless drug tests.

The Supreme Court stands to set a dangerous precedent that would allow every school district in the United States to randomly drug test a many of its students to deter a generalized drug problem.

The District argues that students who participate in extracurricular activities do so voluntarily and thus can avoid drug testing by forgoing participation in these activities, which include band and Future Farmers of America. However, the district fails to acknowledge the important role extracurricular activities play in a complementing a students' education; colleges and universities also weigh such extracurricular participation heavily when making admissions decisions.

Furthermore, studies and anecdotal evidence overwhelmingly show that participation in extracurricular activities effectively deters students from trying drugs in the first place and also deters students who have tried drugs in the past from continuing use. Students faced with even a small chance of testing positive and therefore with disciplinary repercussions may decide to forgo participation in extracurricular activities altogether. Given this outcome, the District's rationale appears misguided, if not detrimental, to actually deterring student drug use.

Moreover, voluntary participation in extracurricular activities should not come at the price of giving up fundamental rights including protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. Granted, students agree to abide by rules and subject themselves to increased supervision when they sign-up for the marching band or the choir. However, this should not be construed to mean students forgo constitutional rights - an unavoidable consequence of policies such as the this district's.

According to the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, approximately two percent of schools nationwide test students involved in extracurricular activities. That number is likely to grow substantially, according to the National School Boards Association: "There are many school districts that would adopt policies if the Supreme Court upholds testing," said Julie Underwood, general counsel of Association, who supports a decision in favor of testing students as a condition of participation in extracurricular activities.

It is clear that a Supreme Court decision in favor of District No. 92 has great potential to affect a large number of public school students nationwide. Such a decision would likely undermine efforts to deter student drug use and also forces students to choose between bodily privacy and participation in extracurricular activities that are important to their overall educational experience as well as chances of gaining admission to colleges and universities.