Supreme Court OKs
Mandatory Middle And
High School Drug Tests

By James Vicini

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that public middle and high schools can require drug tests for students in extracurricular activities such as sports, choir or band without violating their privacy rights.
The high court by a 5-4 vote upheld a program in Oklahoma that required students who want to take part in after-school activities to submit to random urinalysis.
The tests, required without any suspicion of drug use, covered students in grades 7 to 12 who sign up for such activities as cheerleading, choir, band, the academic team and the Future Farmers of America club.
On the last day of their term, the justices overturned a U.S. appeals court ruling that struck down the policy in the Tecumseh School District in Pottawatomie County for violating constitutional privacy protections against unreasonable searches.
"Because this policy reasonably serves the school district's important interest in detecting and preventing drug use among its students, we hold that it is constitutional," Justice Clarence Thomas said for the majority.
A student who refuses to take the test or who tests positive more than twice cannot take part in competition for the rest of the school year. Students are tested at the start of the school year and then randomly throughout the year, with names drawn every month.
The ruling could boost school drug testing. Over the past three years, about 5 percent of schools nationwide have required drug tests for student athletes while about 2 percent have tested students in other extracurricular activities.
The Supreme Court adopted the position urged by the Bush administration in upholding the drug tests. At arguments, a Bush administration lawyer said a school could even test all of its students without violating their privacy rights.
The Supreme Court last addressed the issue in 1995, when it ruled that public high schools and middle schools may force student athletes to submit to drug tests. The Oklahoma case covered extracurricular activities other than athletics.
In Tecumseh, a rural town about 40 miles (64 km) from Oklahoma City, two students challenged the policy after its adoption in 1998, claiming the school failed to show it had a problem with illegal drugs.
The school board defended the program and its authority to adopt tests to deter and combat drug use.
Of the more than 500 students tested while the program was in effect during part of two school years, only three students, all athletes, tested positive. Two of the athletes also participated in other extracurricular activities.
Justices John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O'Connor, David Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented.
Ginsburg said the program was unreasonable, capricious and even "perverse" because it targets for testing a student population least likely to be at risk for illicit drugs and their damaging effects.


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