Public Schools May Test Students for Drugs under Certain Circumstances

Q.:  Our public school tests students for drugs.  Isn’t this a violation of students’ constitutional rights?

A.: Under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, people, including public school students, are protected against “unreasonable searches and seizures.”  A drug test (usually done by obtaining a urine sample from a student), does qualify as a “search and seizure.”  However, depending upon the way in which it is done, the test may not be “unreasonable.”

Q.:  Under what circumstances can my public school test students for drugs?

A.: There are two drug-testing approaches your school may take that are lawful under appropriate circumstances:  individualized suspicion testing and random testing.

Q.:  How does individualized suspicion testing work?

A.: Unlike police officers, school officials do not need either “probable cause” or a search  warrant to do testing.  However, officials must have “reasonable suspicion” to test a student.  “Reasonable suspicion” means officials must have reasonable grounds to suspect that a search will provide evidence that the student violated a school rule.

Q.:  How does random testing work?

A.: Random testing is conducted by school officials where there is no suspicion of use by a particular student, and is lawful if it is conducted in accordance with one of two U.S. Supreme Court decisions that held certain random drug testing is constitutional.

Q.:  What do the Supreme Court decisions say?

A.: A 1995 decision said that random drug testing of students participating in athletics was constitutional.  Specifically, the Court’s decision means that:
1) the drug test is a “search” according to the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment;
2) such a search is reasonable because the school has legitimate interests in deterring drug use and protecting students’ health and safety;
3) public school student athletes cannot expect as much privacy as other members of the general public with respect to urinalysis for drug-testing purposes.

A 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision held that random drug testing of students participating in any extracurricular activity, including choir, was constitutional.  Specifically, the Court’s decision recognized that:
1) public students in extracurricular activities can expect only a limited amount of privacy;
2) the collection of drug test samples from such students is only “mildly invasive” of privacy;
3) test results are used only for counseling and rehabilitation, without any criminal or disciplinary actions;
4) testing is a reasonably effective way to address legitimate concerns about detecting, deterring, and preventing student drug use.

The information contained herein is general and should not be applied to specific legal problems without first consulting with one of our attorneys.

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