Published Online: March 12, 1997


District OKs Random Drug Testing for all Students

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A school district in Omaha, Neb., has taken new steps in the war on drugs after a recent student survey revealed that the use of marijuana and other drugs was increasing.

District 66 will ask parents next fall to allow middle schools and high schools to randomly test their children for use of marijuana and other drugs. The tests will be part of a pilot drug-prevention program adopted unanimously by the school board in January.

The district appears to be the first in the nation to have approved such testing of all students.

Although details are still being worked out, Ken Bird, the superintendent of the 5,000-student district, said only parents and possibly the student's counselor would be told if a student tested positive for drug use. "More than anything else, we want to open up a dialogue between parents, their kids, and schools," he said.

Parents and teachers have offered their full support for the drug-testing program, Mr. Bird said, adding that so far, students have "responded passively."

1995 Court Ruling

The district's decision was based in part on a 1995 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Vernonia School District v. Acton, Mr. Bird said. In a 6-3 ruling, the court held that an Oregon district had the right to conduct random drug tests on student-athletes, including those not suspected of illegal drug use. ("Court Upholds Drug Tests for Student Athletes," July 12, 1995.)

In the wake of the Supreme Court decision, many districts started testing students for drug use, but most of these programs have been limited to student-athletes. Some have also included participants in other activities. ("Drug-Test Policy Spurs Student To Sue Board," Feb. 19, 1997.)

Greg Perry, of the Lincoln-based Nebraska Council of School Attorneys, said District 66's drug-testing program--because it requires parental consent and does not punish students who test positive--would make it hard to challenge on constitutional grounds.

Matt LeMieux, the executive director of the Nebraska branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, said that although the policy seems to have been carefully crafted to avoid legal challenges, questions remain over whether parents can waive the constitutional rights of their teenagers.

There are also thorny questions about the reliability of the drug tests and the discretion that school officials will exercise with those results, he said.

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