Drug Testing Another Blow To Freedoms

Drug Testing Another Blow To Freedoms
Posted by CN Staff on July 14, 2002 at 15:52:18 PT
By Jennifer Rosato
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer 
In the midst of the heated debate over school vouchers and the Pledge of Allegiance, it is easy to overlook the significance of the United States Supreme Court's recent decision to permit states to conduct random drug testing of high school students involved in extracurricular activities.The typical response to this decision seems to be that the ends justify the means: Forced testing may not be a good idea, but if it keeps one child off drugs, it is worth it. Although keeping children off drugs certainly is important, it is not worth stripping students of their privacy rights in school. And that is what the court's decision essentially does.
The school district before the court had limited its drug testing to students in "competitive" extracurricular activities such as choir and band. But the court's opinion does not appear limited to these situations. The court suggests that, as long as the school district perceives some drug problem in its schools (and what high school doesn't?), drug testing of any student at any time would be permitted.This reasoning is a big leap from a previous decision in which the court permitted student athletes to be tested: Athletes had been singled out by the school because they were involved in drugs, could hurt themselves and others if impaired, already were subject to other rules, and were required to shower together. The same cannot be said for all students who are enrolled in high school. The court has said, time and time again, that students' constitutional rights are not "shed when they enter the schoolhouse gate." Now, it is not so clear.Following the court's decision, a school district's general fears of drug use, without further proof, could justify more significant intrusions on students' privacy. Under the court's reasoning, not only could all students be tested for drugs at any time, but lockers and desks could be searched because some student at some school might possess contraband. And the reach of the court's opinion could extend beyond drug testing. For example, to prevent school violence, schools could censor and punish a student's innocent acts (such as bringing utensils to school or writing in a journal). Public-school students will be treated more like prisoners than people who have the right to enjoy basic freedoms in a democratic society. That result is contrary to basic principles of constitutional law.In the end, our students may be sober, but their spirits will be broken. They will be fearful of authority, and distrustful of their teachers and peers. The students will follow the rules simply to avoid punishment, not because they embody the better moral choices. Students will be poorly prepared to be the thoughtful, critical thinkers that our society requires them to be as adults. With this stunted moral development, they are more likely to be engaged in the Enron-like scandals of the next generation, as they will act honestly only to avoid punishment.The U.S. Supreme Court now has shown how much respect it thinks students deserve - very little. It is now up to school districts to "say no to drug testing" and find ways to solve the problems of drug use and violence without obliterating students' privacy rights.Jennifer Rosato is a professor of law at Brooklyn Law School and codirector of its Center for Health Law and Policy. Source: Inquirer (PA)Author: Jennifer RosatoPublished: Sunday, July 14, 2002Copyright: 2002 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.Contact: Inquirer.Letters phillynews.comWebsite: Drug Testing Archives
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