Student Drug Testing

K-12 Law School Series

Student Drug Testing

Marilyn Gardner, lawyer, spent years teaching Advanced School Law at the university doctoral level. Her focus was court decisions at all levels of government which have had an impact on the governance of schools and what school personnel can do in terms of the operation of schools, curriculum, instruction, assessment and school personnel, and treatment of candidates. Marilyn Gardner, Lawyer, would always stress that failure to comply with school law can have far reaching and costly implications.

The K-12 School Law Series curriculum focuses on the Pearson Educational Leadership Series books which focus on the major areas of school litigation and promotes an understanding of the principles of law that guide the governance and operations of schools while equipping school authorities with appropriate knowledge, skills and disposition to fulfill their obligations to school-aged youngsters.

In her research, she identified four Pearson Educational Leadership Series books ( that are valuable resources on these topics.  They cover many facets of K-12 School Law and are important resources to empower school administrators and staff.  They are:

  • Law and Ethics in Educational leadership, David Stader ISBN: 978-0-13-268587-0
  • School Law and the Public Schools, Nathan Essex, ISBN: 978-0-13-707275-0
  • A Teacher’s Pocket Guide to School Law, Nathan Essex, ISBN: 978-0-13-335191-0
  • School Law: Cases and Concepts, Michael W. LaMorte, ISBN:978-0-13-707247-7

Pearson’s resources ( focus on the major areas of school-related litigation and the implications of court rulings for school leaders, teachers as well as the related changes in policy affecting the school environment. School staff will be empowered to deal in legally defensible ways with school- and community-based situations and remain current with school related law and policy.

Topic: Student Drug Testing

Pearson Educational Leadership Series

  • Sample Scenarios from: Law and Ethics in Educational leadership, David Stader (ISBN: 978-0-13-268587-0) and School Law and the Public Schools, Nathan Essex, ISBN: 978-0-13-707275-0

By way of precedent, the first major Supreme Court case that dealt with the legality of random drug testing in a public school occurred in 1995.  The school in the case required random urinalysis for testing as a prerequisite for participating in sports. The school, at the time, was dealing with an increase in disciplinary problems including rudeness in classes and outbursts of profane language. (Veronia School District v Acton)

There was no evidence that the student in question used drugs. However, the parents of a seventh-grade student refused to sign the consent form for drug testing for him to play football. Consequently, he was suspended from athletics. The parents claimed unreasonable intrusion.

The Supreme Court ruled that the school district based its decision on an earlier landmark case (New Jersey v. T.L.O) which ruled that school officials had greater latitude to search students in the school environment to maintain conduct.

It is interesting that the court in Veronia ruled that this type of environment could be considered “special needs in that it warranted “suspicion-less testing” of athletes as a condition for their participation.  The court ruled that “students within the school environment have less expectation of privacy than members of the population in general and that student athletes have even less legitimate privacy expectations than non-athletes.”

The court further ruled that under the drug detection program, the collection of urine, its testing, and disclosure of results were unobtrusive. The court also noted the program served an important governmental interest to deter drug use.

However, you should know that the dissenting justices were vocal in disagreeing with the majority.

But in another split 5 to 4 court decision in 2002 (Pottawatonimi Count v Earls ) the court once again upheld random drug testing of students in any extracurricular activities. This case was different in that it allowed drug testing of students who wanted to be part of any school sponsored club or activity, not just athletics.  They also reiterated that school officials only needed “reasonable suspicion” and not the higher standard to probable cause

The dissenting judges in this case felt that the “special needs” outlined in Veronia were not present. In fact, the Superintendent testified that drugs were not a major issue in the school as outlined in the Veronia case. The courts also did not like that it was drug testing of all extracurricular activities, versus the athletes where there is the risk of immediate physical harm.

However, the court, once again noted that there was a strong government interest in having drug free schools. In the final analysis, the courts are viewing the problems school districts are dealing with drugs and as such, warrant the testing.  It is the price a student must pay if they want to play sports.

School athletes are commonly required to consent to drug testing as a condition of their participation in a particular sport. Some schools have attempted to broaden this requirement to students participating in all extracurricular activities. School leaders need to appropriately apply legal principles in these circumstances.

Trickle Down or Unreasonable Search:

Drug Testing of Students Participating In Extracurricular Activities

Jenny’s parents are refusing to sign a consent form authorizing the school to conduct random urinalysis testing for drug use on their daughter. Because of their refusal, Jenny will not be allowed to participate in band, or other extracurricular school activities. Although you provide them a copy of the School Board policy requiring the signed consent form as a prerequisite for participating in extracurricular activities, they want you to make an exception because it is just unfair to drug test an academically high achieving student.

Let’s legally review this scenario by answering the following questions.

Question 1: Should you make the requested exception? What are the implications of making the exception?

An exception, for the stated reason, should be avoided for several reasons. First, it is generally inaccurate that academically high achieving students are immune from drug use. Secondly, this exception will likely stimulate many other requests for the same reason. As you make additional exceptions, you are technically undermining School Board policy.

Question 2: What’s the legal principle applicable in this situation? What’s the precedent setting case?

The U.S. Supreme Court in Board of Education of Independent School District No. 92 of Pottawatomie County v. Earls (122 S. Ct. 2559), authorized drug tests for middle school students participating in several extracurricular activities. The scope of student drug testing was significantly expanded in this case from just athletes, to students participating in various extracurricular activities. In Jenny’s situation, therefore, it would be legally permissible to deny her participation in band until the parental consent form is signed, based on this Supreme Court case.

Question 3: In this U.S. Supreme Court case, the ruling was directly applicable to specific

extracurricular activities in this particular school. Could this decision be used to include other extracurricular activities?

How do precedent setting cases affect future school practices?

In the Board of Education of Independent School District No. 92 of Pottawatomie County v. Earls (122 S. Ct. 2559), the following extracurricular were specifically mentioned in the ruling: band, color guard, choir, Future Farmers of America, Future Homemakers of America, and the school’s athletic and academic teams. However, this precedent setting case establishes a solid legal foundation to require drug testing consent as a perquisite for participation.


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