Pubdate: Fri, 09 Nov 2001
Source: Pueblo Chieftain (CO)
Copyright: 2001 The Star-Journal Publishing Corp.
Author: Anne Gearan, Associated Press
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)
Bookmark: (Youth)


WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court agreed Thursday to decide whether schools
may give drug tests to nearly any student involved in after-school
activities, from the chess club to cheerleading, without evidence the
student or the school has a drug problem.

Critics say such broad testing is unconstitutional and a step toward
universal screening. Supporters say it is necessary in the face of drug use
by young people.

"I felt they were accusing us and convicting us before they had given us a
chance," said Lindsey Earls, who sang in her high school choir and
participated on an academic quiz team when testing began in Tecumseh, Okla.

Only children involved in competitive extracurricular activities were
tested on the theory that by voluntarily representing the school, they had
opened themselves to greater scrutiny than other students.

"The board did perceive that there was a drug problem among the students,
and wanted to help ... give students a reason to say no," said Stephanie
Mather, a lawyer for the school. "It was a deterrent. A student could say,
'I want to participate in this band competition, so I'm not going to do that."'

The Supreme Court ruling, expected by summer, could answer a question
lingering from a major 1995 case, when the court said a school with a
pervasive drug problem could subject student athletes to drug tests.

In that 6-3 decision, the court did not address schoolwide testing, or
extracurricular activities apart from athletics. It is not clear whether an
answer in this case would apply to all extracurricular activities, or only
to competitive pursuits.

The case involves a decision by the board of education in rural Tecumseh,
40 miles from Oklahoma City, to begin "suspicionless" drug testing in the
fall of 1998.

The board had considered testing all students in the school district, but
settled for the smaller program in light of previous court challenges
elsewhere. The school acknowledges that students involved in such
activities as band and the pompom team are not more likely than others to
be involved with drugs, and has said there was no severe drug problem in
the school.

"It was not where the problem was, but where they thought they could, in
essence, legally get away with doing the testing," said Graham Boyd, the
American Civil Liberties Union lawyer handling the case.

Earls was given a urine test in 1999. The test came back negative, and she
and her family sued.

"It was horrible. Someone would stand outside the bathroom stall and
listen," said Earls, now a freshman at Dartmouth.

A federal appeals court ruled earlier this year that the tests violated the
Constitution's guarantee against unreasonable searches.

The case turns on whether schools have to prove narcotics problems before
testing children and if testing is appropriate only for students involved
in potentially dangerous activities, such as sports, or students who
voluntarily have given up some expectations of privacy.

In its appeal to the Supreme Court, the school argued that the lower court
drew the wrong conclusions from the 1995 athlete case, and that its ruling
conflicts with other appeals courts around the country.

The Tecumseh testing program ran for part of two school years. It was
suspended after Earls sued.

All students participating in a range of voluntary extracurricular
activities, including the Future Farmers of America club, cheerleading and
sports, were tested at the beginning of the school year. Thereafter, tests
were random.

Overall, 484 students were tested, and four turned up positive. The school
offered drug counseling after a positive test, and those who complied could
remain on their teams. Those who refused were barred from competition.

"If the school is right here, you could drug test ... anybody with a
voluntary interaction with any level of government," the ACLU's Boyd said,
including applicants for drivers' licenses or welfare benefits.

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