The right to privacy is fiercely defended liberty in the United States. Codified in the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is considered a treasured bulwark from unnecessary surveillance. However, much like any of the other liberties guaranteed to American citizens, it is not without constraints. In certain contexts, our right to privacy is relinquished due to superseding parameters. For example, while in public our right to privacy is loosened. Also, in the advent of a criminal investigation. If there is probable cause or a search warrant, the interest of the public good takes primacy over the rights of the individual. It may be fair to debate the ethics of subverting individual liberty for the common good, but the law is the law.
It has been well established that while on the premise of public school students do not always have a reasonable expectation of privacy. The degree to which underage students do have a right to privacy is a difficult matter to clarify. The subject of mandatory drug tests on school grounds is no less murky. Much like another Fourth Amendment controversy the conclusion is heavily contingent on context. It is the contextual details that form the line of demarcation between legal and illegal conduct. As a general rule of thumb, subjecting students to random urinalysis testing is legally questionable without extenuating circumstances (P. 256). The defining case for a student drug test was Vernonia School District V. Acton. The Vernonia School District adopted the requirement of a drug test as a prerequisite for participating in interscholastic sports programs. It was ruled that the interest of ensuring the safety of the students took primacy over any privacy concerns. Especially considering the means of administrating the drug test were viewed as being “minimally” invasive. Pertaining specifically to a drug-testing requirement to play sports the late Justice Scalia observed that students have the same expectation of privacy as the general population. This is even more so true for student-athletes (P. 257).
Perhaps it fair to concede that dispensing with a small amount of privacy is the nonmonetary price to play varsity football. It may even be reasonable to assume that the individual student values the opportunity to play football more than the privacy they surrender. In terms of this contingency being subjected to drug testing is completely voluntary. Mirroring the hiring procedures of many private corporations. If you don’t want to undergo the test don’t accept the job. Likewise, you can elect to simply not play basketball. This issue becomes profoundly more problematic when it is involuntary and without suspicion.
Unfortunately, the Anderson Community School Corporation in Indiana decided to push the envelope on the issue. The school district decided to form a policy where drug tests were mandated for any student suspended for getting into a physical altercation school grounds. Refusal results in either an expended suspension or expulsion (P.257). The school district cited the loose correlation between the pharmacological effects of drugs and violent behavior for justifying this policy (P. 257). Needless to say, a student, James Willis, did challenge this policy. The supreme court declined to review the case citing the decision in Vernonia. However, a silver lining to the question of in-school drug testing procedures came when the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the requirement of drug testing for non-athletic extracurricular activities (P. 258). In the 2002 ruling Board of Education V.Earls, the supreme court held that it was reasonable to subject all students participating in extracurricular programs to drug testing.
I have some strong reservations for endorsing drug testing in public schools. The duty of preventing and intervening in instances of drug use is the responsibility of the parents. However, I can concede drug testing to participate in extracurricular activities providing this requirement is articulate to the students. Since participation in such programs is completely voluntary and analogous to drug testing requirements for a job. The problem becomes when school districts engage in a form of “mission creep” with a loose application of the Vernonia case. Mandating drug tests as a condition for returning to school after being suspended for fighting is truly invasive. Not to mention coercive. The offense at hand is engaging in violent behavior. That alone isn’t enough evidence to assume a probable cause for drug use. Not from a legal standpoint necessarily. but from the standpoint of deductive reasoning. While the Anderson Community School district did not punish students for a positive test, they did require the student to seek help. This blatantly veers into the responsibilities of the child’s parent or guardian.