Pubdate: Sun, 14 Jul 2002
Source: Inquirer (PA)
Copyright: 2002 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc
Author: Jennifer Rosato
Note: Jennifer Rosato is a professor of law at Brooklyn Law School and 
codirector of its Center for Health Law and Policy.
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)


In the midst of the heated debate over school vouchers and the Pledge of 
Allegiance, it is easy to overlook the significance of the United States 
Supreme Court's recent decision to permit states to conduct random drug 
testing of high school students involved in extracurricular activities.

The typical response to this decision seems to be that the ends justify the 
means: Forced testing may not be a good idea, but if it keeps one child off 
drugs, it is worth it. Although keeping children off drugs certainly is 
important, it is not worth stripping students of their privacy rights in 

And that is what the court's decision essentially does.

The school district before the court had limited its drug testing to 
students in "competitive" extracurricular activities such as choir and 
band. But the court's opinion does not appear limited to these situations. 
The court suggests that, as long as the school district perceives some drug 
problem in its schools (and what high school doesn't?), drug testing of any 
student at any time would be permitted.

This reasoning is a big leap from a previous decision in which the court 
permitted student athletes to be tested: Athletes had been singled out by 
the school because they were involved in drugs, could hurt themselves and 
others if impaired, already were subject to other rules, and were required 
to shower together.

The same cannot be said for all students who are enrolled in high school.

The court has said, time and time again, that students' constitutional 
rights are not "shed when they enter the schoolhouse gate." Now, it is not 
so clear.

Following the court's decision, a school district's general fears of drug 
use, without further proof, could justify more significant intrusions on 
students' privacy.

Under the court's reasoning, not only could all students be tested for 
drugs at any time, but lockers and desks could be searched because some 
student at some school might possess contraband. And the reach of the 
court's opinion could extend beyond drug testing.

For example, to prevent school violence, schools could censor and punish a 
student's innocent acts (such as bringing utensils to school or writing in 
a journal). Public-school students will be treated more like prisoners than 
people who have the right to enjoy basic freedoms in a democratic society.

That result is contrary to basic principles of constitutional law.

In the end, our students may be sober, but their spirits will be broken. 
They will be fearful of authority, and distrustful of their teachers and peers.

The students will follow the rules simply to avoid punishment, not because 
they embody the better moral choices.

Students will be poorly prepared to be the thoughtful, critical thinkers 
that our society requires them to be as adults.

With this stunted moral development, they are more likely to be engaged in 
the Enron-like scandals of the next generation, as they will act honestly 
only to avoid punishment.

The U.S. Supreme Court now has shown how much respect it thinks students 
deserve - very little.

It is now up to school districts to "say no to drug testing" and find ways 
to solve the problems of drug use and violence without obliterating 
students' privacy rights.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Beth