A Georgia county will randomly drug test students beginning in the 2015-2016 school year. The move has many asking if it is a constitutional violation. Based on previous Supreme Court rulings, though, the answer may be more complicated than it seems. It turns out the Supreme Court has visited random drug tests for students before, and that their conclusion was, some students’ privacy is less guaranteed than others.
A drug test is considered a search under the Fourth Amendment — this simply means that a U.S. citizen can’t be subject to one from the government or a government agency without either a suspicion or an exceptionally compelling reason. (This is why you’ve heard the complaint that drug testing for welfare benefits is unconstitutional.)
However, Gradick Communications announced last year that Carroll County schools were considering a random drug test policy for all the schools in their district. As of this week, according to WSB-TV, the plan is officially approved, and will go into effect in the fall.
Despite the Fourth Amendment protections against search and seizure, here’s why challenges to the policy might fail. It’s only intended to target three student groups: athletes, students who are involved in other extracurricular activities, and students who drive to school and park on campus.
The Supreme Court heard a similar case twenty years ago — and decided in favor of the school, supporting the random drug test policy under certain conditions. UNC’s School Law Clearinghouse has the full facts of the case, but here’s the relevant part.
A seventh grader, with the support of his parents, refused to submit to a drug test, and as a result, was denied access to the school’s football program. The Supreme Court sided with the school, citing a number of reasons.
- Students are committed to the ‘temporary custody of the state’ when in school. “Schools are allowed to regulate conduct of students that could not be regulated in free adults. A public school student, therefore, has a lesser expectation of privacy than does a general member of the population.”
- Student athletes are subject to a lower level of privacy still, and subject to greater level of regulation.
- Preventing school students from using drugs is considered a ‘compelling interest’ of the state.
For the first and third element of the court’s prior decision, there is no difference in this case. For the second, the only question that might remain unsettled is whether students who drive and park on campus, and students in non-athletic extracurricular activities, also surrender a certain amount of privacy and autonomy above and beyond the the average student.
Still, not everyone is happy about the new drug testing policy. Is it appropriate to randomly drug test students?
[Photo by: Stephen Brashear/Getty Images]