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Stop Treating Students Like Criminals
April 2, 2002
by Ron Crickenberger

What do convicted criminals have in common with American public high school students?

Each can be forced to urinate into a paper cup at any time -- to "prove" they're drug free. Even if there's no evidence that they've ever used illegal drugs.

Now the Supreme Court will decide, in a case heard on March 19, the constitutionality of subjecting public school students to random, warrantless drug tests as a prerequisite to participating in extracurricular activities.

The case, Board of Education v. Earls, concerns an Oklahoma school district drug-testing policy. The school requires drug tests for students in grades 7-12 who want to participate in after-school events such as the chess club or the school band.

The plaintiff, Lindsay Earls, was a high school sophomore trying out for the girls choir when she was asked to urinate into a paper cup as a teacher listened outside the bathroom stall.

The experience was "humiliating," said Lindsay, who passed her test. Then she and two other students filed a lawsuit against the district because the search wasn't based on "individualized suspicion." A ruling is expected in July.

But it gets worse. If the Bush administration has its way, soon every student in the USA's 14,700 public school systems -- not just those involved in extracurricular activities -- could be subject to drug searches.

That's because the administration argued in a brief to the Supreme Court that every school should "have the flexibility to adopt reasonable measures, like the policy in this case." Note the word "reasonable." It means that schools should have the power to test any student, as long as school officials claim it is "reasonable."

But there are good reasons for Americans to stand up and "just say no" to mass drug testing of students:

  • It's unconstitutional. The Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches, clearly states that "no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause." The Constitution contains no exception for students.

    Thus, the government has no more right to compel a random urine sample from high school students than from high school principals, accountants, or even Supreme Court justices.

    What part of the phrase "probable cause" don't the Bush administration's legal experts understand?

  • It won't work. A drug test can be circumvented just as easily by high school students as by any other American who is compelled to take one. If extracurricular activities require a drug test, kids using drugs may simply avoid those activities, and avoid the test as well. Or simply find a way to falsify the test, as many American adults already do.

    Even the mandatory, blanket testing of all students favored by the Bush administration won't stop kids from using drugs. The proof? The government can't even keep drugs out of its own prisons, so how can it possibly keep drugs out of schools?

    Testing or no testing, students who want drugs will find a way to get them -- just as millions of their parents do.

  • It's an attack on parental rights. Coercive student drug testing is based on the assumption that students are in effect government "property" while attending government schools.

    But children are the responsibility of their parents, not of the government. And parents are the only ones who should decide whether to arrange a drug test.

    Perhaps Lindsay Earls said it best: "It's nobody's business but my parents if I'm using drugs."

  • It's hypocritical. "I didn't inhale," said former president Bill Clinton. "When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible," said President George W. Bush.

    Even high schoolers are smart enough to recognize hypocrisy, whether the source is a parent or a politician.

    Interestingly, in 1998 the U.S. House of Representatives quietly torpedoed a drug-testing proposal for themselves and their staffs because lawmakers protested that it was "insulting and undignified."

So why should we subject our own children to this insulting and undignified policy?

Clearly, demands for student drug testing have far more to do with political posturing than with public safety -- and students know it.

Mandatory student drug testing will only empower politicians and public school bureaucrats; harass millions of innocent schoolchildren in the hope of catching a few drug users; and teach kids to have no respect for the authority figures who have so little respect for their rights.

The Supreme Court has the opportunity to remedy this wrong. It should strike down suspicionless searches of America's students. And it should do it for the children.

Ron Crickenberger is political director of the Washington, DC-based Libertarian Party.

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