Published Online: February 19, 1997

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Drug-Test Policy Spurs Student To Sue Board

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A Tulia, Texas, high school senior and National Honor Society president was so opposed to his district's random-drug-testing policy that he has sued the school board, father and all.

Eighteen-year-old Hollister Gardner is representing himself in a lawsuit filed in federal court in Amarillo late last month against the Tulia school board. His father, farmer Gary Gardner, has been a board member for the past four years.

Although Hollister joked that he "never thought the day would come that I'd be suing my father," he is serious about the legal challenge he has launched against the 1,400-student Tulia district's new drug-testing policy. The policy asks students age 18 or older, and the parents of younger students, to give written consent to a random drug test in order for students to take part in athletics and other extracurricular activities.

The Texas district's decision to implement a program of random drug testing was based in part on the 1995 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Veronia School District v. Acton. In a 6-3 ruling, the court held that an Oregon district had the right to conduct random drug tests on student-athletes, including individuals not suspected of using drugs. ("Court Upholds Drug Tests for Student Athletes," July 12, 1995.)

Guilt Assumed?

The case has prompted school systems across the country to adopt student-athlete drug-testing programs, as well as policies that exclude from school activities students who use alcohol.

Hollister Gardner contends the ruling can be applied "very narrowly" to school districts that--as was the case with Veronia--have a serious drug problem among student-athletes. Applying the decision to the Tulia district and extending it to students involved in other extracurricular activities, he said, "is taking things too far."

The younger Gardner is an A student, the president of his school's National Honor Society chapter, a band member, and a member of both the FFA (formerly the Future Farmers of America) and the Future Teachers of America. He has been allowed to continue participating in the activities pending the outcome of the lawsuit.

The student said that he does not use or advocate the use of drugs. Nonetheless, he asserted that the district's drug-testing policy violates his rights under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution--the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government.

"The policy is unreasonable," Hollister said last week. "And it assumes guilt."

His father was the only school board member to vote against the policy when it was adopted last fall. Mr. Gardner said that he not only supports his son's lawsuit against the Tulia school board; he is helping him prepare his defense.

"Hollister decided to take a stand for what he believes in, and I'm 100 percent behind him," Mr. Gardner said.

District Defends Rule

Observers say the case could help determine the breadth of the Supreme Court decision.

Although Hollister, who has received advice from the American Civil Liberties Union, argues that school officials have misread the 1995 ruling, Tulia school leaders say otherwise.

Superintendent Mike Vinyard said that the district had done an "extensive review" of the Supreme Court's position and decided that it applies to any students involved in extracurricular activities.

Mr. Vinyard said officials adopted the drug-testing policy because "drugs were becoming readily available" in Tulia, a panhandle town of 4,700 people 45 miles south of Amarillo.

The superintendent cited a 1994 school district survey that found 27 percent of Tulia students had experimented with drugs. Mr. Vinyard also said that there had been a recent increase in drug arrests by Tulia police.

But Mr. Gardner, a lifelong resident, denied that there is a drug problem in his town. He described Tulia as "a clean, little, Bible Belt community."

Mr. Vinyard said that the Gardners are the only family to opt out of the new policy. Most parents, he said, support the measure because it gives young people a "legitimate way to resist peer pressure to use drugs that's better than saying 'my parents told me not to.'"

The district has yet to find any drug users since it began the random drug tests of students in grades 7 through 12 last month, the superintendent said.

Bernard James, a professor of constitutional law at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., and an authority on student rights, said that the Supreme Court ruled broadly enough for drug testing to apply to all students as long as there is a drug problem.

Mr. James is not confident that Hollister Gardner will prevail.

"The legal issue has been settled," Mr. James said. "The remaining issue is whether or not individual school districts think [drug testing] is a good idea."

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