ERIC Identifier: ED316957
Publication Date: 1990-00-00
Author: Klauke, Amy - Hadderman, Margaret
Clearinghouse on Educational Management Eugene OR.
Drug Testing. ERIC Digest Series Number EA35 (Revised).
The issue of drug testing in schools galvanizes emotions about both civil
liberties and moral obligations. Our educational institutions must be committed
to respect for student and staff privacy. Yet school administrators are feeling
pressure to adopt urgent measures to keep drugs and alcohol from further
endangering the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of our youth.
WHAT IS THE CURRENT STATUS OF DRUG USE IN THE SCHOOLS?
rate of drug use among teenagers is higher in the United States than in any
other industrial society. Sixty-one percent of high school seniors have tried
drugs (Lewis 1987), and 20 percent (3.3 million) of 14- to 17-year-olds have
serious drinking problems. Drunk driving remains the primary cause of death
among teenagers. Schools suffer from the subsequent loss of concentration,
determination, and social skills among both students and staff members who are
Many school officials claim that their responsibility "to ensure that
employees and students report fit for duty" (Lewis) obligates them to implement
severe measures for the detection and punishment of drug users.
These claims are reinforced by a national anti-drug campaign and
Congressional passage of the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 and the Drug-Free
Schools and Communities Act of 1986 (and 1989 amendments) tying institutional
compliance to federal funding eligibility requirements. The 1989 legislation
added $173 million for drug abuse prevention programs aimed at school districts
in disadvantaged areas (Penning 1990).
WHAT LEGAL QUESTIONS ARISE WHEN SCHOOLS CONSIDER DRUG
Drug testing raises issues that pertain to both the Fourth
Amendment, which protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizure (judges
have found drug testing to constitute such a search), and the Fourteenth
Amendment, which requires that citizens be treated as innocent until proven
guilty and be accorded due process of law when accused.
In Patchogue-Medford Congress of Teachers v. Union Free School District, the
state appellate panel held that "there must be some degree of suspicion before
the dignity and privacy of a teacher may be compromised by forcing the teacher
to undergo a urine test." In other words, there must be a "factual basis" for
suspecting a particular teacher of using illegal drugs. Paradoxically, such an
accumulation of evidence would usually preclude the necessity for testing body
fluids. The court did concede that drug testing restrictions may soften in
situations where an employee's substance use might endanger the public.
In two 1989 cases (Skinner v. Railway Labor Executives Association and
National Treasury Employees Union v. Von Rabb) involving public employees, the
U.S. Supreme Court ruled that public safety interests outweighed privacy and
"individualized suspicion" requirements (Sendor 1989). These "special needs"
cases may have implications for policies concerning school employees with
"diminished expectations of privacy," such as school bus drivers (Allred 1989).
In Odenheim v. Carlstadt-East Rutherford Regional School District, the court
held that drug testing as a part of mandatory physical exams was "an attempt to
control student discipline under the guise of medical procedure." Attempts to
pretest athletes raise the issue of whether extracurricular activities are
rights or privileges.
In Schail v. Tippecanoe County School Corporation (1988), a federal district
court ruled that a drug analysis program for student athletes was justified by
the school's "legitimate need to ensure drug-free athletes" (Gittins 1988). In
this ruling, participation in interscholastic athletics was considered a
privilege, not a "property" or "liberty" interest protected by the Fourteenth
Amendment--especially since the testing program preserved confidentiality,
lacked criminal repercussions, and prohibited sports participation only after
Because metabolisms differ, and results are influenced by the time and amount
ingested, urinalysis and breathilizer tests inaccurately reflect an individual's
use or abuse of a controlled substance, particularly marijuana. Instances can
occur, as in Jones v. McKenzie, in which a positive urinalysis test cannot be
confirmed by an alternative testing method.
According to Eugene A. Lincoln's (1989) analysis of three hypothetical cases,
school officials have no authority or responsibility to regulate offcampus
conduct with "no bearing on the proper maintenance of the educational process."
A student's observed conduct on school premises is more important than where
that student used marijuana or other drugs. Mandatory urinalysis should be based
only on individualized suspicion and should satisfy both prongs (reasonable
suspicion and appropriate circumstances) of the T.L.O. v. New Jersey test for
search and seizure constitutionality. School administrators would also be wise
to use less intrusive measures, such as searching a suspected student's locker
or personal belongings.
HOW MIGHT DRUG TESTING BE APPLIED IN A FAIR, ECONOMICAL, AND LEGALLY SAFE MANNER?
Although any testing procedure risks charges of
defamation, invasion of property, infliction of emotional distress, or wrongful
discharge, several precautions can reduce the dangers for schools determined to
test constituents for drug use.
Extensive involvement (including education about drug and alcohol abuse) by
parents, community, school board members, teachers, staff, and students in
planning a drug policy goes a long way toward preventing future court cases.
Voluntary, nondisciplinary procedures should be encouraged, with rules and
punitive actions clearly and publicly stated. Advice from a school board's legal
counsel is recommended before implementation.
Prescreening and, when evidence warrants, individualized testing by a
reliable, independent medical agency remain the least objectionable methods of
testing for substance abuse. Positive results should be proceeded by followup
tests, hearings, reviews held within a reasonable timespan, and punitive or
HOW MIGHT DRUG TESTING AFFECT STUDENT ATTITUDES?
students, testing followed by nonpunitive, rehabilitative action may come as a
respite from out-of-control behavior. As Brian Mittman (1987) asserts, "Teenagers who are weak enough to fall victim to drug abuse generally are
incapable of dealing with it." Others may appreciate the removal of temptation.
On the other hand, most adolescents grow through a period of reshaping
identity, experimenting, challenging, and taking risks. What might have been
passing curiosity or mild rebellion should not be construed as evidence of
deviance in character. A negative public image can irreparably damage a
teenager's self-identity and self-esteem.
WHAT ARE SOME ALTERNATIVES TO DRUG TESTING IN THE
According to Michael Buscemi (1985), "research has demonstrated
repeatedly that short-term programs and those that rely exclusively on
information about drugs and alcohol are not effective." Effective policies tend
to be both preventative and ameliorative, long-term and comprehensive. They
involve curriculum and sometimes organizational changes and are nourished by a
broad base of input and support.
Many authorities believe youthful substance abuse is symptomatic of high
stress and a dearth of coping skills. Schools might alleviate the motivation for
substance abuse by strengthening students' personal skills and peer support
systems, providing appealing extracurricular activities, emphasizing health
promotion, and encouraging drug-free lifestyles among their staff and student
Adult examples of positive stress management and body care can contribute
significantly to a student's cultivation of similar life habits. So can
celebrity testimonies and classroom discussions probing the glamorization of
alcohol and drugs by the popular media.
Allred, Stephen. "Recent Developments in Drugs in
the Workplace." SCHOOL LAW BULLETIN 20,3 (Summer 1989): 1-6. EJ 396 228.
Bozeman, William C., and others. "Drug Testing in Schools: Implications for
Policy." UPDATING SCHOOL BOARD POLICIES 18, 3 (March 1987): 1-3. ED 280 145.
Buscemi, Michael. "What Schools Are Doing to Prevent Alcohol and Drug Abuse."
SCHOOL ADMINISTRATOR 42,9 (October 1985): 11-14. EJ 329 597.
Gittins, Naomi E., ed. "Fighting Drugs in the Schools: A Legal Manual."
Alexandria, Virginia: National School Boards Association, 1988. 143 pages. ED
Lewis, John, and others. "Drug and Alcohol Abuse in the Schools: A Practical
Policy Guide for Administrators and Teachers on How To Combat Drugs and
Alcohol." Topeka, Kansas: National Organization on Legal Problems of Education,
September 1987. 44 pages. ED 281 304.
Lincoln, Eugene A. "Mandatory Urine Testing for Drugs in Public Schools and
the Fourth Amendment: Some Thoughts for School Officials." JOURNAL OF LAW AND
EDUCATION 18 (Spring 1989): 181-8. EJ 392 024.
Mittman, Brian Noal. "This Student's Surprising Plea: Make Drug Testing
Mandatory for Your Teenage Students." THE EXECUTIVE EDUCATOR 9,5 (May 1987): 36.
Penning, Nick. "New Support for the Drug Fight." SCHOOL ADMINISTRATOR 47,3
(March 1990): 32-33.
Sendor, Benjamin. "New Rulings Suggest Ground Rules for Drug Tests." AMERICAN
SCHOOL BOARD JOURNAL 176 (June 1989): 12-13.