Street Law, Inc. and The Supreme Court Historical Society present

Landmark Cases of the U.S. Supreme Court

Street Law /

Privacy, School Searches and Student Drug Testing

BAckground

TecumsehHigh Schooloffers a variety of extracurricular activities for its students.  These activities include choir, band, color guard, Future Farmers of America (FFA), Future Homemakers of America (FHA), and the academic team, as well as athletics and the cheerleading squad.  The majority of the school’s 500 students participate in one or more of these activities.

 

At the start of the 1998 school year, the school district adopted the Student Activities Drug Testing Policy.  While the school acknowledged only a minimal problem with drugs, they adopted this policy to prevent a bigger problem from developing.  The policy required drug testing of all students who participated in any school-sanctioned extracurricular activity.  Specifically, in order to participate in an activity, each student had to sign a written consent agreeing to be tested for drug use on several occasions:  prior to participating in the activity, randomly during the year while participating in the activity, and at any time while participating in the activity upon reasonable suspicion. 

 

According to the policy, students will be tested at random and called out of class in groups of two or three.  The students are directed to a restroom, where a faculty member serves as a monitor.  The monitor pours the contents of the vial into two bottles.  Together the faculty monitor as the student seals the bottles.  The student signs a form, which the monitor places with the filled bottles into a mailing pouch in the presence of the student.  The bottles are then sent to be tested at a designated laboratory.  Random drug testing was conducted in this manner on approximately eight occasions during the 1998 and 1999 school years. 

 

There are no academic penalties for refusing to take the test or for a negative result, and results of the tests are not shared with law enforcement authorities.  Students who refuse to submit to the policy simply cannot participate in the extracurricular activity.  In two school years, a total of 484 students were tested as part of this policy.  Four students tested positive.

 

Two students, neither of them athletes, challenged this policy in federal court as a violation of their right to privacy.  The trial court sided with the school, but the federal court of appeals reversed the decision.  The school board has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

 

Several years earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the policy of an Oregon high school to conduct random, suspicionless searches of student athletes at a high school with a serious drug problem.  In that case, the school officials had determined that the student athletes were among the leaders of the “drug culture” of the school.

 

Step 1 

Together with a partner, answer the following questions:

  1. How is this case similar to and different from the case ofNew Jersey v. T.L.O.?
  2. How is this case similar to and different from the Oregon case mentioned in the last paragraph of the background reading? 
  3. In your opinion, what are the most convincing arguments the students (and other opponents) can make to challenge the drug testing policy?
  4. In your opinion, what are the most convincing arguments the school officials (and other supporters) can use to justify this policy?
  5. In your opinion, how should the Court decide this case?  Give your reasons.
  6. If this case is decided in favor of the school, do you think that means that school can test all students?  Faculty and staff? Should schools be able to test everyone for drugs? Explain your reasons. 
Step 2 

Prepare to debate questions five and six with other students in your class.  Your teacher may ask you and your partner to debate two other students or your teacher may ask you to “take a stand” on the various arguments raised in this case.

Adapted from Street Law: A Course in Practical Law, 8th edition, Glencoe/McGraw Hill © 2010

< New Jersey v. T.L.O.