Drug Testing for Extracurricular Activities

Search-and-seizure law applies to drug testing for extracurricular activities that are associated with public schools. But that doesn’t mean such testing is illegal.

Courts acknowledge that state-run schools have a genuine interest in preventing the use of drugs by students, but they also concede that even youngsters have privacy rights. This dichotomy has led to mountains of litigation between students and their parents on the one hand, and schools and school districts on the other. One particularly contentious area involves drug testing for students who take part in extracurricular activities.

No Test? No Dice.

In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a public school policy requiring drug testing for middle and high school students who participated in competitive extracurricular activities. The Court held that the policy didn’t run afoul of the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. Instead, it found the policy to constitute a   reasonable way of advancing the school district’s goal of impeding student drug use. The Court reasoned that the tests were “minimally intrusive,” and that schoolchildren have only a limited privacy interest in the scholastic environment. Importantly, it also observed that the only risk for a student who failed a drug test was limitation of participation in extracurricular activities. (Board of Education v. Earls, 536 U.S. 822 (2002).)

Other courts have followed the Supreme Court’s lead. For example, in 2011 the Wyoming Supreme Court considered a school policy requiring 7th- to 12th-graders partaking in  extracurricular activities to consent to alcohol and drug testing. The U.S. Supreme Court had already decided that such testing didn’t violate the federal constitution; the Wyoming Court additionally found that it didn’t contravene the state constitution. (State constitutions can provide more, but not fewer, privacy protections than the U.S. Constitution.) It didn’t matter to the Wyoming Supreme Court whether the school district could prove that the policy would be particularly successful. (Hageman v. Goshen County School Dist. No. 1, 256 P.3d 487 (Wyo. 2011).)

In short, public school students who plan to participate in school-affiliated programs should be prepared for the possibility that the local district will enact or already has enacted a presumptively valid drug testing program.

For more information on related topics, see Searching Students and  Miranda Rights for Students.

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