Pubdate: Wed, 12 Jun 2002
Source: Amarillo Globe-News (TX)
Copyright: 2002 Amarillo Globe-News
Author: Brent Biles


On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing the case of Lindsay Earls 
vs. Tecumseh High School.

Ms. Earls was attending high school in the small town of Tecumseh, Okla., a 
couple of years ago when she was informed that if she wished to participate 
in the school choir, she would be required to undergo a drug test.

She was then ushered into the women's rest room, given a cup and told to 
step into the stall.

Part of her objection to the process was the fact that as she was filling 
the cup, three teachers stood outside the stall listening. She claims the 
process was humiliating and unnecessary.

There is, however, a more serious issue at stake in Earls vs. Tecumseh.

If the Supreme Court sides with Tecumseh High in this hearing, it will set 
a precedent that will give high schools freedom to test for drugs any 
student who wishes to participate in any extracurricular activity without 
parental permission.

In 1996, the court set a similar precedent that made it legal for schools 
to test athletes. The Earls case would be much more wide- ranging. In 
essence, it would mean that if your child wanted to participate in almost 
any activity at school outside the basic curriculum, he or she could be 
subjected to a drug screen without your permission. This would include 
band, choir, FFA, FHA, drama, speech club, chess club and any other 
activity you can imagine.

Essentially, it means that at one time or another, all high school students 
will be tested.

Some of you might recall a case in Lockney a couple of years back involving 
a man named Larry Tannahill. Mr. Tannahill refused to allow the Lockney 
school to test his son, Brady. As a result of that refusal, Brady was 
temporarily expelled from school, and Mr. Tannahill was fired from his job.

In March 2001, a federal district court in Texas struck down the Lockney 
school's drug-testing policy. Similarly, in Oklahoma, the Tecumseh testing 
policy was struck down by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In fact, 
all across the nation, federal courts have been rejecting the notion that 
schools should be able to implement broad- range testing policies in their 

So why am I talking about it here?

According to Washington insiders, it is a "done deal" that the Supreme 
Court will reverse the decision made by the 10th Court of Appeals and 
support Tecumseh's right to test students who wish to participate in 
extracurricular activities of any kind.

In fact, according to some sources, Republicans have had in the works for 
many years a plan to test all high school students. And this precedent, if 
it passes, will include almost all students between seventh and 12th grade. 
A line stealthily slipped into one of former President Clinton's education 
bills a few years back, and missed at the time by the authors of the bill, 
provides evidence of this plan. The line would allow schools to tap 
gigantic block funds of school money to pay for testing.

In other words, money that is being used to improve the quality of 
education in our schools instead would be used to pay for drug testing.

Now, I should say that I am not pro-drug use. In fact, I believe that 
prolonged drug use, just like alcohol or tobacco abuse, can lead to a 
number of problems for the abuser. I wonder, however, if testing is an 
effective way to prevent drug use.

Testing is most effective in detecting marijuana abuse, as evidence of that 
drug remains in the body for many days after use. Traces of other, more 
powerful drugs, such as cocaine or ecstasy, however, are often gone by the 
morning after.

Drug tests are notoriously unreliable as well, often failing to detect drug 
use or providing false-positives in as many as one in 100 tests. This means 
that in a school the size of Amarillo High, in any given year there is the 
possibility that as many as 10 innocent students could test positive for 
drugs. Imagine if it were your son or daughter who was faced with the 
stigma of being labeled a drug user.

Experts agree as well that drug testing is not the best policy. In a brief 
filed in support of Lindsay Earls, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the 
American Public Health Association, and the National Association of Social 
Workers said that "Tecumseh's policy does far more harm than good to the 
community's young people - rendering them, for example, more likely to drop 
out of school, less likely to be admitted to college, more likely to become 
involved with crime and more likely to use drugs."

I sincerely hope the justices of the Supreme Court will side with Lindsay 
Earls this week. However, I fear they will not. The conservative group of 
judges currently on the bench has consistently voted a hard line where 
drugs are concerned. This attitude sends the right message to kids, but at 
what cost?

Are you, as a parent, ready to give schools the right to test your child 
for drugs without your permission?

By the time you read this column, that question might be moot.
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