Student Well-Being

Appellate Court Rejects Extracurricular Drug Testing

By Mark Walsh — March 28, 2001 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A federal appeals court last week struck down an Oklahoma school district’s policy of drug tests for students engaging in extracurricular activities such as cheerleading, band, choir, and the Future Farmers of America.

The 2-1 ruling by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit (Earls v. Board of Education of Tecumseh Public School District), in Denver, held that the Tecumseh district’s policy of random testing for use of illegal drugs violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches.

The majority drew a line between the drug testing of student athletes upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 1995 case and the extension of testing to students who take part in other extracurricular activities.

“It is difficult to imagine how participants in vocal choir, or the academic team, or even the [Future Homemakers of America] are in physical danger if they compete in those activities while using drugs, any more than any student is at risk simply from using drugs,” said the majority opinion.

The ruling is significant because it conflicts with one by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, in Chicago, which in 1998 upheld random testing of participants in extracurricular activities beyond athletics.

School districts have slowly expanded drug testing of students since the high court’s ruling six years ago in Vernonia School District v. Acton. In that case, the court upheld an Oregon district’s policy of testing student athletes in light of what administrators had described as an epidemic of drug abuse among them. Since then, more districts have begun testing athletes, and some have included other extracurricular participants or students who drive to school. A federal district judge recently struck down a Texas district’s policy of testing all students in grades 6-12.

Injured by a Steer

The 2,170-student Tecumseh district adopted its drug-testing policy in the fall of 1998. Besides student athletes, the policy covers activities involving outside competition, such as the FFA, the FHA, band, choir, and the academic team. It apparently has not been applied to noncompetitive activities such as curriculum clubs or the student newspaper or yearbook.

Covered students are subject to random urinalysis testing for use of marijuana, cocaine, and other illegal drugs, although not for alcohol or nicotine. In the 1998-99 school year, two students out of 486 covered by the policy tested positive for drug use. Both were athletes and members of the FFA. In 1999-2000, one student out of 311 tested positive.

The district’s policy was challenged in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Oklahoma City by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of several families. The suit didn’t challenge the policy for student athletes.

The district judge upheld the drug testing of extracurricular participants. But in its March 21 ruling, the 10th Circuit court overturned that decision.

Applying the factors the Supreme Court discussed in Vernonia, the appellate panel’s majority said extracurricular participants did not face the same dangers from drug abuse that the student athletes did in the Oregon case.

One school board member had testified that an FFA participant was apparently under the influence of drugs when he was injured by a steer he was handling. And other Tecumseh teachers and administrators had testified about incidents in which they said they knew students were using drugs.

But the district provided a “paucity of evidence of an actual drug-abuse problem among those subject to the policy,” the appellate panel said.

Districts seeking to impose random drug testing as a condition of joining in a school activity “must demonstrate that there is some identifiable drug-abuse problem among a sufficient number of those subject to the testing,” U.S. Circuit Judge Stephen H. Anderson said in the majority opinion.

‘A Privilege’

In dissent, U.S. Circuit Judge David M. Abel said that drugs are a serious problem in schools, and that extracurricular participants might be more tempted to experiment with drugs because their after- school activities and related travel are subject to less supervision from adults.

“Participation in extracurricular activities is a privilege, not a right,” he said.

The 10th Circuit covers Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming.

A version of this article appeared in the March 28, 2001 edition of Education Week as Appellate Court Rejects Extracurricular Drug Testing


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Assessment Webinar
The State of Assessment in K-12 Education
What is the impact of assessment on K-12 education? What does that mean for administrators, teachers and most importantly—students?
Content provided by Instructure
Jobs January 2022 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Proven Strategies to Improve Reading Scores
In this webinar, education and reading expert Stacy Hurst will provide a look at some of the biggest issues facing curriculum coordinators, administrators, and teachers working in reading education today. You will: Learn how schools
Content provided by Reading Horizons

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being Opinion Students With Food Allergies Are Lonelier: Here’s How to Help
A child who misses out on birthday cake or pizza at a school party is deprived of more than just a treat.
Ayelet Fishbach
2 min read
Images shows a stylized artistic landscape with soothing colors.
Student Well-Being COVID Vaccine Uptake Has Stalled for Young Children. What Schools Can Do to Help
Overall, only about 1 in 5 children ages 5-11 in the United States are fully inoculated against COVID-19.
4 min read
An information sign is displayed as a child arrives with her parent to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children 5 to 11-years-old at London Middle School in Wheeling, Ill., on Nov. 17, 2021.
A child arrives with her parent to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at London Middle School in Wheeling, Ill., in November.
Nam Y. Huh/AP
Student Well-Being Opinion In Uncertain Times, Students Need to Be Able to Adapt
They might need to hang in there when the going gets tough, but it’s also important to adjust when circumstances change.
Andrew Martin
2 min read
Images shows a stylized artistic landscape with soothing colors.
Student Well-Being Q&A Communications Expert Explains: How to Talk to Parents About COVID Vaccination
A Johns Hopkins University expert discusses a new training project on how to communicate about the sensitive issue.
7 min read
Anti-vaccine mandate protesters rally outside the garage doors of the Los Angeles Unified School District, LAUSD headquarters in Los Angeles on Sept. 9, 2021. The Los Angeles board of education voted to require students 12 and older to be vaccinated against the coronavirus to attend in-person classes in the nation's second-largest school district.
Anti-vaccine mandate protesters rally outside the Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters in September, 2021.
Damian Dovarganes/AP