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Published in Print: March 31, 1999, as Supreme Court Rejects District's Appeal Over Drug Testing

Supreme Court Rejects District's Appeal Over Drug Testing

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The U.S. Supreme Court last week rejected the appeal of an Indiana school district that was seeking to revive its policy requiring that all students suspended for fighting submit to testing for drugs and alcohol.

A federal appeals court last year struck down the policy as an unjustified intrusion on the Fourth Amendment rights of students to be free from unreasonable searches.

The high court on March 22 declined without comment to review the appeal in Anderson Community School Corp. v. Willis (Case No. 98-1183). It was the second case involving drug testing of students that the court has refused to review in its current term. Last fall, the court let stand an appeals court ruling that upheld the Rush County, Ind., district's policy of requiring students in all extracurricular activities to submit to random drug testing. ("Supreme Court Lets Stand Rulings on Drug Tests, Teaching Materials," Oct. 14, 1998.)

The 11,000-student Anderson, Ind., district adopted its drug-testing policy in 1997. In addition to mandatory testing for students suspended for fighting, it required testing for those who were habitually truant, those in possession of tobacco, and those who were suspended for three days or more.

The district justified its policy on the basis of research drawing a connection between disruptive behavior and drug abuse.

Inconclusive Relationship

The policy was challenged by James R. Willis II, who was a high school freshman when he was suspended for fighting with another student in December 1997. Mr. Willis refused to submit a urine sample for testing and was threatened with expulsion.

Mr. Willis and his father sued the school district and lost in federal district court in Indianapolis. But a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, based in Chicago, unanimously ruled for the Willises.

The court rejected the school district's argument that fighting, by itself, was a symptom of drug abuse that justified drug testing.

"While the [district's] own statistics suggest some relationship between the use of illegal substances and fighting, the relationship is by no means conclusive," the appeals court said.

The court said the random testing of high school athletes approved by the Supreme Court in the 1995 case of Vernonia School District v. Acton was an exception to the general requirement of the Fourth Amendment that a search, such as a drug test, be accompanied by individualized suspicion.

Because students involved in fights usually meet with a school official, they can be evaluated for suspected drug use on an individual basis, the appellate court said.

In its appeal to the Supreme Court, the Anderson district urged the justices to use the case to extend Vernonia "to allow drug and alcohol testing of high school students who violate certain published rules, such as fighting, which bear a causal nexus to drug and alcohol use."

Disruptive Pupil

In separate action last week, the high court declined to hear the appeal of a Texas father and mother who claimed that a police officer used excessive force in removing their son from his kindergarten class.

The case involved Dennis Campbell Jr., who was allegedly disrupting his class in the Fort Bend, Texas, district in 1994 by throwing a paper clip and refusing to obey the instructions of his teacher and an assistant principal. A police officer assigned to the school under the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program was summoned to remove him.

The parents alleged in a federal civil rights lawsuit that the officer slammed the boy to the ground and dragged him to the principal's office. Lawyers for the officer disputed that version in court papers.

Both a federal district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, based in New Orleans, ruled against the Campbells in their suit against the officer, the city of Sugarland, Texas, and the Fort Bend district.

The appeals court said the U.S. Constitution gives school officials "a relatively wide range [of] acceptable action in dealing with disruptive students."

The Supreme Court refused without comment to hear the family's appeal in Campbell v. McAlister (No. 98-1148).

Also last week, the high court declined to hear the appeal of a California teacher who alleged he was fired in retaliation for reporting that teachers were pressured to alter attendance records to boost district funding.

The Lynwood, Calif., school district argued that teacher Arthur J. Brewster was fired because of classroom deficiencies and that attendance discrepancies were errors, not fraud or falsification. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, based in San Francisco, ruled that school officials had immunity against such a suit.

The appeal was Brewster v. Board of Education of the Lynwood Unified School District (No. 98-1145).

Vol. 18, Issue 29, Page 21

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