Family in Texas Challenges Mandatory Drug Testing

Family in Texas Challenges Mandatory Drug Testing
Posted by FoM on April 17, 2000 at 09:38:53 PT
By Jim Yardley
Source: New York Times
For three years, people in this tiny farming town fretted that stopping the local drug problem was like trying to lasso the winds that blow day and night off the flat Texas plains. Teachers complained of students getting stoned at lunch. Parents worried about peer pressure at school to get high. 
Eventually, after an emotional public meeting and demands that something be done, the school board here enacted what is considered the toughest school drug testing policy in the nation. It requires that all junior and senior high school students take a mandatory drug test. There is no choice; refusal by a parent or student draws the same punishment as failure to pass the test, an in-school suspension for first offenders. Now, as many other school districts across the country institute drug tests, Lockney, with only 2,200 residents, has become an unlikely constitutional battleground. A parent, aided by the American Civil Liberties Union, filed a lawsuit in March asserting that the policy violated his and his son's Fourth Amendment rights prohibiting unreasonable searches. Arguments in the case could be heard as soon as this summer by a federal judge. "They cannot tell me how I'm supposed to believe," said the parent, Larry Tannahill, 35, whose 12-year-old son, Brady, attends the junior high. "I believe in the Constitution. And because I believe in our Constitution and our rights, you're going to punish my son? I don't think so." Since 1995, when the United States Supreme Court opened the door to drug testing in schools by permitting the testing of athletes, the unanswered question has been where would schools, and ultimately the court, draw the line. Until now, school districts had been tentative in pushing the boundaries, particularly because legal challenges to wider testing are pending in Oklahoma, New Jersey and other states. But Lockney's policy of testing every student has shattered any boundaries. "If the policy has no teeth, there's no use having it," said Donald G. Henslee, the lawyer representing the Lockney Independent School District. Mr. Henslee said at least a dozen other Texas districts had inquired about instituting a similar policy. For Mr. Tannahill, the controversy has made clear the tensions that can arise when an individual challenges the will of the majority, particularly in a small town. He and his wife, Traci, are the only parents who are fighting the policy. He was dismissed from his job as a farm worker, though his former employer says the firing was unrelated to the lawsuit, and he has found a threatening note outside his home. Some people have invited the Tannahills to leave town. Up and down Main Street, people say they do not wish Mr. Tannahill any harm, but they cannot believe one person should stop them from doing what they believe is in the best interests of their children. To many parents, the drug test is a "tool" to provide students a reason to resist peer pressure to drink or do drugs. The debate over constitutional rights seems secondary to many people. "I don't feel like it's violating my rights for my kid to be tested," said Kelly Prayor, 35, who has two children and is a teller at the local bank. "As far as my kids' rights, they're not responsible. What rights do they have? They don't have a right to drink or do drugs." Lockney, which is between Lubbock and Amarillo, is a tiny spot in the agricultural sea of the Texas plains, which stretch to the horizon, interrupted only by telephone poles and windmills and, occasionally, a tree. The local schools are the biggest employer, and the red logo of the Lockney Longhorns, the high school, is painted on the two water towers and displayed in the rear windshields of many of the trucks rumbling through town. People in Lockney do not believe that drugs are any worse here than in other small towns, but the issue has generated attention for several years. In 1997, nearly 300 people attended a public meeting to discuss drugs. A year later, 12 people were charged with selling cocaine, an event that stunned the town. By then, school officials were studying drug testing policies, including those in several surrounding towns. Most of the policies involved testing students for extracurricular activities. One nearby town with such a policy, Tulia, is continuing the testing even as it is under challenge in federal court. But Lockney officials were intrigued by another town, Sundown, which instituted a mandatory testing policy for all students in 1998 that has yet to be challenged. Last December, the Lockney school board approved its own mandatory policy and notified parents that testing would begin in February. Under the plan, all junior and senior high students would take a urine test and submit to random follow-up tests. Employees of the district also undergo the tests. Today, all 388 students in junior and senior high schools in Lockney have taken the text except Brady. School officials would not say how many tested positive other than to describe the number as a "Texas handful." The in-school suspensions given to first-time offenders last three days and require students to complete their class work in a separate room. They also undergo drug counseling and are suspended from all school activities for three weeks. Repeat offenders face longer suspensions, though not expulsion. Julie Underwood, general counsel for the National School Boards Association in Washington, called the Lockney policy "about as broad as it could ever be," saying it resulted from the "slippery slope" created by the Supreme Court's ruling allowing testing of athletes. Since then, Ms. Underwood said, the court has resisted clarifying the parameters for testing and has sent mixed signals. In October 1998, the court let stand a lower court ruling enabling an Indiana school district to require a drug test for students participating in after-school activities. But last March, the court dealt a blow to another Indiana school by leaving intact a lower court ruling that prohibited the school from requiring suspended students to take a drug test before resuming classes. "School districts don't know exactly how far they can take this," Ms. Underwood said. "There hasn't been a definitive ruling by the Supreme Court on mandatory testing or random drug testing by school districts." Eric E. Sterling, president of the nonprofit Criminal Justice Policy Foundation in Washington, predicted that more districts would emulate Lockney as more parents felt helpless to prevent their children from using drugs. Mr. Sterling said the policy could be a deterrent for some students but he cautioned that it could further alienate students at risk of taking drugs. He said the "presumption of guilt" created by the policy flies in the face of the Pledge of Allegiance that students recite every morning. "Their sense of liberty and what liberty means will be offended every time they're asked to provide a urine specimen without any cause that they're using drugs," he said. A lanky, laconic man, Mr. Tannahill says he is hardly a rebel, but he fears his neighbors are too eager to give up their rights. He said that he had not used drugs and that he did not oppose some sort of drug testing policy, though not mandatory. His stance seems far more libertarian than liberal: he also says that growing gun control efforts violate the constitutional right to bear arms. His family has lived in Lockney for four generations, and he calls the town "a good little community." Yet he was incensed that under the school testing policy his refusal to sign a parental consent form meant that Brady was considered guilty. "I'm tired of letting our rights just be taken away," said Mr. Tannahill, whose younger son, Coby, 11, attends the town's elementary school. "They are taking my rights away as a parent, telling me I had to do this or my son would be punished. That's what really got to me." Mr. Tannahill, who graduated from Lockney High, added, "The teacher taught me that if you give up your rights, and you're not going to fight for them, you'll lose them." Mr. Henslee, the school district's lawyer, said the board was reconsidering its stance on parents who refuse to give consent. He said the board remained committed to mandatory testing but was considering alternatives to punishments attached to cases like the Tannahills. Brady has been allowed to continue his normal classes and activities, pending the result of the lawsuit. Mr. Tannahill, meanwhile, is struggling with life as a pariah. He said he had gotten friendly phone calls or quiet nods from some people, but few support him publicly. His wife works as a clerk at a nearby prison. Unemployed, he builds miniature barns and windmills at home that he hopes to sell on the Internet. He said his sons had been treated well at school, as if nothing had happened, but he remained wary. Several weeks ago, the family's pet boxer was sprayed with orange paint from a paint gun. Mr. Tannahill said he found a note outside his house that read, "You're messing with our children, and next time maybe this won't be a paint gun." At a school board meeting in March, Mr. Tannahill and his lawyer unsuccessfully asked the board to change its policy. Hundreds of people packed into the Lockney Independent School District's high school gymnasium for the meeting, many of them wearing T-shirts that read: "We asked for it. L.I.S.D. delivered it. We appreciate it." Speaker after speaker extolled the policy to loud applause until Mr. Tannahill's lawyer was greeted with stony silence. "If looks could kill, me and my family would have been dead a long time ago," Mr. Tannahill said. Graham Boyd, a civil liberties union lawyer who is representing Mr. Tannahill, asserted that the policy had many failings, including that a urine test does not detect all drugs. But beyond the legal questions, Mr. Boyd said he was surprised at the tensions that had arisen. "This isn't about race or religion or one of the things you would expect to inflame a community," he said. "This is about drug testing a 12-year-old boy." People in Lockney say Mr. Tannahill is not in any danger, though a few concede they would not mind if he left. Residents described the drug policy as a common-sense solution to help children resist drugs. A few people expressed doubts about the policy, but an overwhelming majority of parents and students agreed with Jordan Lambert, a senior and the quarterback of the football team. "I think it's great," Jordan said. "I don't see how we're being forced to when we're more than willing. Ninety-eight percent of the student body is more than willing. Nobody is being forced to." Lockney, Tex. Published: April 17, 2000Copyright 2000 The New York Times Company Related Articles & Web Site:ACLU School Board To Meet Files Suit Against Lockney ISD Drug-Testing Enters Lockney ISD Drug-Testing Controversy Files Lawsuit Against Lockney Schools Drug Testing Archives: 
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Comment #9 posted by Ashley And Deanna on May 02, 2001 at 07:50:56 PT:
You think you have it bad.
I am currently a senior at a small town high school in new York...our school policy on drug testing...we dont even have one...its not manditory to have a test...unless you are trying out for a sport and its not even a drug test...just a urine sample i know there are kids who are doing drugs, drinking, etc...but Still our school has no policy. A student and i for our, Participation In Government class, have choosen this topic. We feel that our whole school should have to have the testing...If your not on drugs...WHATS THE BIG DEAL!? if you are on drugs..well then thats your own problem. i dont see why there is no policy on the needs to be done!
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Comment #8 posted by John on December 27, 2000 at 13:07:59 PT:
This is pityful.........
You notice that the only people who are speaking in favor of drug testing are those who were teenagers in the 70's. These people are hypocrits. How many of them would have passed these tests when they were our age? Our parents were ganj-heads...but what they don't realize is that we realize that our nation is currently in the hands of a bunch of former potheads...and it sux. The greatest form of prevention is to let us learn from our mistakes. It is our life, and if we want to spend it hooked up to a Turkish Skull-Bong than what business is it of our teachers to care. If you want to test us  do it in the home. To waste time and money testing all students to "smoke" out the 1% of those actually involved in drugs, is not only laughable, but grosly idiotic. I live in Lindale, Texas, and we have a policy similar to that of this town, and it makes me sick.-John
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Comment #7 posted by Carl on December 04, 2000 at 12:00:31 PT:
smoke weed everyday
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Comment #6 posted by moonshyn on April 26, 2000 at 06:43:14 PT:
schools creating future bums
Education is a fundamental part of our society. The purpose of public schools is to provide every american youth the free education they need to bacome positve members of society. It is often drop-outs and drug users that end up wasting their lives away with no opportunities and wasting tax payers money because they don't have the education to make enough money to support themselves.I am horrified at the idea of mandatory drug testing in public schools. These young people whether they use drugs or not have a right to an education. If a student gets arrested for vandalism or assalt that did not happen on school property, the school cannot take action to punish tjhe student at school. So how can schools punish kids for using drugs outside of school? Drug searches are bad enough, now they've simply gone too far. These policies are a violation of almost every right - the fourth ammendment right against unreasonable search and seizure, the right of privacy and the right to a free, equal and fair education. If you want to solve the drug problem, this isn't going to do it. These laws are simply going to increase poverty and crime.
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Comment #5 posted by freedom fighter on April 18, 2000 at 19:26:28 PT
We gotta
stand up now!
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Comment #4 posted by kaptinemo on April 18, 2000 at 18:06:12 PT:
Ye shall reap...
"I don't feel like it's violating my rights for my kid to be tested," said Kelly Prayor, 35, who has two children and is a teller at the local bank. "As far as my kids' rights, they're not responsible. What rights do they have? They don't have a right to drink or do drugs." Prayor. Need I make the obvious pun? But this is a lot more serious than any of these people think.What are they teaching their children? About trust? About love? About responsibility? About government? And, ultimately, about life itself?They are teaching their children to kowtow to a State that says they have no rights as human beings. That because they have no rights, they may have their lives disrupted and even destroyed by that very same State. That their own parents distrust them. That in the name of love they are assumed guilty until proven innocent.Now, flash-forward some thirty years. The parents of these children are facing their twilight years. Who will take care of them? The children they demanded undergo a humiliating test? The children who were told by their parents and the State that neither respected their rights because they have no rights, period? Children grown to adulthood devaluing life itself because their lives were deemed disposal of the State?In the not-too-distant past, this country was toying with the idea of public health care. The inevitable question arose: who's going to pay for all the elderly, the infirm, the chronically ill who can no longer care for themselves? In short, what to do with those who can't be productive anymore. One of the obvious answers was 'rationing'. Meaning, consigning someone to death rather than helping them, simply because of the 'cost'. And who would have administered such a program? The grown children of all the Lockneys of the country, that's who. Because they'd be eminantly suited to the task; being taught to devalue their own lives, to surrender their liberties at the demand of the State, they'd be naturals in the triage business. And who would be winnowed on the triage floor, consigned to suffer from lack of medical care? The very people who taught them how little life means.What comes around, goes around. There's infinite wisdom in this simple phrase. It seems prohibitionist insanity comes in cycles. Tobacco may be the next substance to be banned outright. The parents of Lockney who were so quick to sacrifice the trust of their children on the altar of the DrugWar may one day be staring down the gun barrels of those same grown children after being caught with an illegal tobacco cigarette. When that particular worm turns, then we are doomed as a nation. Because Hitler said it a long time ago. He said to his critics: "We don't need you; we already have your children." Barry wants *your* children, Parents of Lockney, for *his* altar. 
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Comment #3 posted by Wabo on April 18, 2000 at 12:57:55 PT
the demon in the playground
"I think it's great," Jordan said. "I don't see how we're being forced to when we're more than willing. Ninety-eight percent of thestudent body is more than willing. Nobody is being forced to." I'm sure that the first few Jews off the train really thought they were going into "showers" and they were willing too. This is about freedom, not drugs or drug testing.Will the parents of Lockney realize what they have done when teenagers begin ariving at the emergency room and at the morgue after experimenting with non-detectable inhalents and solvents?
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Comment #2 posted by Alexandre Oeming on April 17, 2000 at 12:34:12 PT:
Practice what you preach
>Residents described the drug policy as acommon-sense solution to help children resist drugs.Yea, right. Well, i'll take it one further. I describe the drug policy of UNIVERSAL drug testing for EVERYBODY as a common-sense solution to help EVERYBODY resist drugs. Maybe we should start with the folks in Lockney, hmmm? How about that you weak, pathetic parents? If you've got nothing to hide, i'm sure you wouldn't mind peeing into this little cup i have here, just to make sure, right? Oh, my! Look at the little rucus my little innocent ole idea has raised! Unless and until everyone that is so gung-ho to get OTHERS to pee in cups is willing to do it themselves for no good reason as well, they can all go get bent, as far as i'm concerned. Practice what you preach, parents!
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Comment #1 posted by mungojelly on April 17, 2000 at 10:44:25 PT:
"Help" children resist drugs?
Are these people really under the delusion that people who take drugs do so unwillingly? "I didn't want to smoke marijuana, officer, he made me do it! He forced the joint in my mouth & lit it & it's not my fault that I had to breathe!" Drug testing = marijuana testing. If you actually had an effective & manditory "drug" test, it would just push people away from marijuana & onto harder drugs. Gateway effect, anyone? & BTW: "His wife works as a clerk at a nearby prison." -- just a little reminder that the prison-industrial complex is still slowly infiltrating our lives. 
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