Districts’ Drug-Test Policies Are Questioned

By Cindy Currence — February 15, 1984 3 min read

In an effort to “get drugs out of the schools,” school administrators in Hope, Ark., last month began enforcing a school-board policy that can require students suspected of using drugs and alcohol to submit to urine and breath tests.

Officials at the Arkansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union say that the new policy violates students’ constitutional rights, but Gerald Jones, principal of Hope High School, said school officials in the rural community had studied the policy carefully before implementing it and do not believe it is illegal.

“We have a lawyer on our school board and he looked at it very closely,” Mr. Jones said. “I don’t think the school board would implement anything illegal or infringe on anyone’s rights.”

Officials of several national education groups in Washington said last week they had heard of other schools using such tests, but were unable to recall specific instances. One official commented that although statistical information is not available, “we know they’re out there.”

Under the Hope school district’s new policy, teachers of the district’s 17,000 students in grades 6-12 must report students whose behavior is unusual or who smell of alcohol or marijuana. Depending on the suspected violation, a principal may require the student to submit to a breath or urine test to determine whether he or she has been using a narcotic or alcohol. The policy also allows school officials to require students to take polygraph tests.

If the breath or urine tests are positive, the student is automatically suspended for the remainder of the semester and loses all course credit.

A second violation results in the student’s expulsion for one year, and the third offense leads to permanent expulsion.

A student who refuses to take the test may be suspended for the semester, according to the policy.

‘First-Hand’ Examination

School officials in Hope modeled their policy after one that has been operating in neighboring Arkadelphia since September 1982.

Following a “first-hand” examination of Arkadelphia’s drug-use prevention program, which includes the strict suspension and expulsion policy, urine and breath testing for students suspected of using drugs, and a drug-education curriculum, school officials in Hope decided to institute a similar program.

“We were very impressed with the way the Arkadelphia policy was being administered and the positive effect they were getting from it,” Mr. Jones said.

Since the Arkadelphia school board implemented the policy, according to local school officials, nine of the school system’s 1,200 students in grades 5 through 12 have been required to take a urine test. Three of those students were found to have smoked marijuana and were suspended. Another student was suspended when a breath test indicated that he was intoxicated.

“We think [the tests] violate the Fourth Amendment rights of students,” said Sandra Kurjiaka, executive director of the Arkansas aclu “It is not okay to require a student to submit to those kinds of searches--even the U.S. Army can’t do that.” The policies at the two Arkansas schools give school officials more authority than law-enforcement agencies, Ms. Kurjiaka added.

Parents in Arkadelphia have asked the aclu to sue the school district on behalf of their children, Ms. Kurjiaka said.

Although none of the several children involved in the lawsuit has been required to take the tests, “their parents were offended by the policy” and asked the civil-rights group to sue, Ms. Kurjiaka said. “Every once in a while, you find a parent who understands the Fourth Amendment,” she said.

No student in Hope has been required to take the tests since the policy was instituted, Mr. Jones said. He also noted that there have been no complaints from teachers about students they suspect are using drugs or alcohol.

“I hope that a policy of this nature would deter students from doing these things,” Mr. Jones said. “Probably the tougher the policy, the more reluctant students will be to abuse it.”

A version of this article appeared in the February 15, 1984 edition of Education Week as Districts’ Drug-Test Policies Are Questioned