Court Invalidates Drug-Test Requirement For Students in Extracurricular Activities

September 06, 1989 2 min read

A federal district court has struck down a Texas school district’s policy requiring students involved in extracurricular activities to submit to drug tests.

In an Aug. 23 ruling, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas held that a urinalysis program initiated by the East Chambers County Consolidated Independent School District violated students’ Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches.

The district’s program, the court found, was not based upon suspi4cions that particular students were abusing drugs, nor was it prompted by extraordinary circumstances.

The program might have withstood a legal challenge if the district had shown “that participants in extracurricular activities are more likely to use drugs than nonparticipants, or that drug use by participants interfered with the school’s educational mission much more seriously than does drug use by nonparticipants,” the court wrote.

“Neither assertion is supported by the evidence,” it continued.

“The justification for the drug-testing program is, in essence, that ... students would be safer in everything they did if they did not use drugs or alcohol,” the court noted. “That rationale does not meet the compelling-need criteria necessary to undertake a search without reasonable suspicion.”

A senior at East Chambers High School in Winnie, Tex., sued the district in November 1988 after he was barred from participation in the school’s Future Farmers of America program for refusing to take a drug test.

The ruling in the Texas case conflicts with a decision last year by a federal appeals court that upheld a similar urinalysis requirement for student athletes in Tippecanoe County, Ind.

In that case, the appeals court found that such requirements are constitutional because athletes, by virtue of their communal undress and frequent submission to physical examinations, have a diminished expectation of privacy.

A handful of districts nationwide either adopted or began considering similar requirements following the ruling in the Indiana case. The Homewood, Ill., school board in suburban Chicago, for example, was scheduled to vote this week on whether to adopt such a policy.

The court in the Texas case, however, suggested that a pair of recent rulings on drug testing by the U.S. Supreme Court cast doubt on the legal basis for the decision in the Indiana lawsuit.

This spring, the High Court upheld the constitutionality of drug-testing requirements for railway workers and employees holding “sensitive” posts in the U.S. Customs Service. In reaching those decisions, the Court noted that the requirements were reasonable because the jobs in question involved public safety.

“Unlike most private citizens or government employees in general, employees involved in drug interdiction should expect effective inquiry into their fitness and probity,” the Court noted in its majority opinion in the Customs Service case.

A version of this article appeared in the September 06, 1989 edition of Education Week as Court Invalidates Drug-Test Requirement For Students in Extracurricular Activities