Court Refuses to Review School Drug Checks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 23, 1999; Page A2
For the second time in five months, the Supreme Court yesterday rejected pleas from school officials seeking help in determining under what circumstances it is constitutional to test students for the use of illegal drugs.
The court has now left in place two rulings that send mixed signals regarding the use of random student drug testing, at a time when schools increasingly are trying to cope with drug abuse and violence in all grades.
By refusing to take the latest case, the justices left intact a lower court decision in an Indiana school dispute that said forcing suspended students to submit to urine testing before they can return to school violates their privacy rights.
Last October the high court let stand a lower court decision allowing another Indiana school district to require students to submit to urinalysis if they participate in any extracurricular activity, from football to the library club.
"Teachers are no longer concerned about students chewing gum in the classrooms or shooting spitwads," the Indiana School Boards Association and other state educators told the justices in a brief, urging them to take the new case. "They must now be concerned with children smoking crack and shooting high-powered rifles."
To steer students away from drugs, schools across the country have instituted urine testing under an array of policies affecting many thousands of children. But such efforts, particularly when used randomly on students not suspected of drug use, invoke Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches.
The last time the high court considered the constitutionality of student drug testing was 1995, when it ruled that public schools could require students who play sports to undergo random drug tests. The 6 to 3 opinion emphasized not only that schoolchildren do not have the rights of adults, but that student athletes are entitled to less privacy than other students because they often undress and shower together.
Subsequently, numerous districts have expanded their policies for students involved in a range of after-school activities, as well as those in disciplinary trouble.
Graham Boyd, counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union project on drug policy litigation, said yesterday that some school districts were emboldened by the high court's October action refusing to intervene in the policy requiring all students in Rush County, Ind., schools to take drug tests as a condition of participating in extracurricular programs. Numerous challenges brought by students and their parents are boiling up in state and federal courts, he said.
Two years ago the Anderson Community School Corp. in Indiana began requiring high school students caught fighting or otherwise misbehaving and suspended for three days or more to provide a urine sample. The idea was to ensure that students in trouble were not under the influence of illegal drugs.
High school freshman James R. Willis II was suspended for five days for fighting and was asked to submit a urine sample when he returned to school. But Willis refused and, with his father, sued the school district claiming the police violated his right to be free of unreasonable searches.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit agreed, distinguishing the Anderson Community school policy from one that applied only to students who have voluntarily chosen to play sports or engage in other extracurriculars. In Willis's case, the court said, he had not surrendered any of his privacy rights.
School district lawyer Robert M. Baker III said yesterday that the district believed the policy would help deter drug abuse among the most troubled students and that, until the appeals court struck it down last year, other districts were considering it as a model approach. The case is Anderson Community School Corp. v. Willis.
In a day of varied court business, the justices also:
Ruled by 8 to 1 that Ohio could require public university professors to spend more time in the classroom and exempt the requirement from the regular collective bargaining process. The Ohio law stemmed from the legislature's belief that professors were devoting too much time to their own academic research and not enough to teaching students.
The Ohio Supreme Court struck down the policy as a violation of equal protection of the laws because professors were the only public employees who could not bargain over a new work requirement. Reversing in Central State University v. American Association of University Professors, the high court said the classroom requirement "was an entirely rational step" to getting faculty to spend more time on their teaching responsibilities.
Agreed to decide whether Hawaii may allow only descendants of native Hawaiians to vote in elections for trustees of a program that specifically benefits residents with Hawaiian blood. A white rancher born in Hawaii sued, claiming the requirement was unconstitutional race discrimination. The case, Rice v. Cayetano, will be heard in the fall term.
Denied an appeal from a New Jersey woman who said her conviction under the 1994 Violence Against Women Act was unconstitutional. Rita Gluzman was prosecuted for allegedly inducing her cousin to murder with an ax Gluzman's husband, under gender-neutral language of the federal law protecting men as well as women. Gluzman argued that the interstate domestic violence provision intrudes on traditional state authority. The justices rejected the appeal in Gluzman v. United States without comment.
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