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High Court Considers School Drug Tests

Tue Mar 19, 5:27 PM ET 
By James Vicini 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Several US Supreme Court justices questioned on Tuesday whether a program to counter drug abuse among students participating in extracurricular activities could be applied to all public high school students. 

The justices also questioned why the school district in the case adopted the drug tests for students in non-athletic extracurricular activities when it earlier told the federal government it did not have a major drug abuse problem. 

A Bush administration lawyer argued that a school could test all of its students without violating constitutional privacy rights and said schools have more leeway than the federal government in adopting drug testing programs. 

The Oklahoma program required students participating in after-school activities to submit to random urinalysis without any suspicion that they had been using illegal drugs. 

The drug tests covered such activities as cheerleading, choir, band and the academic team. A student who refuses to take the test cannot take part in competition. 

Linda Meoli, an attorney representing the Tecumseh School District in Pottawatomie County, argued that drug tests for students in extracurricular activities passed constitutional muster. 

But Justice David Souter (news - web sites) said the school initially told the federal government it had no problem with drug use and then found only three instances of drug use in several years of tests. "You're going to lose" either way, he told Meoli. 

Souter and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (news - web sites) questioned whether Meoli's argument of testing as a deterrent would allow the program to be expanded to every child in every school in the United States. 


Souter asked whether, as a sanction, a school could post the name and photograph on a bulletin board of those who fail a drug test. Meoli replied it would be "very cruel" and said the school did not want to brand students as drug users. 

Deputy Solicitor General Paul Clement of the US Justice Department (news - web sites) supported the school district. 

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (news - web sites) cited evidence that students participating in extracurricular activities were the least likely to use drugs. She said it seemed "so odd" to penalize those students. 

Graham Boyd, a lawyer represent two students who challenged the drug tests, said the school already has cameras in the hallways, security guards and locker searches, and has also brought in drug-sniffing dogs. 

He said there was no need for the drug tests, and that the students who abused drugs were not in the choir or band. 

Justice Stephen Breyer (news - web sites) said it was hard for him to see how the Oklahoma case would come out differently from a 1995 ruling in which the court allowed public high schools and middle schools to force student athletes to submit to drug tests. 

Justice Anthony Kennedy (news - web sites) asked whether a district would be required to set up a school for those who use drugs and a school that required mandatory testing for everyone. He said no parent would send their child to the first school, except perhaps the parents of Boyd's clients. 

Boyd replied that the students who challenged the policy had never been found to use drugs. 

Lindsay Earls, one of those who challenged the policy, was in the choir, marching band and academic team. Earls, who now is a student at Dartmouth College, attended the arguments. 

The Supreme Court will decide the case by the end of June.