The following question and answer format was developed to help the community understand the tenets of the proposed random drug testing policy at Grand County High School.
1. Is random drug testing of extracurricular activities legal?
2. Is random drug testing of extracurricular activities an infringement on student rights?
The legality of random drug testing of extracurricular activities has been challenged as per individual rights as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment which “prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.” Drug testing by urinalysis has been deemed a “search.” The United States Supreme Court reviewed two cases concerning this issue.
In the 1994 Vernonia School District V. Acton decision, the court concluded that random drug testing of high school athletes does not violate the reasonable search and seizure clause of the Fourth Amendment. The court stated that it is reasonable due to the school’s interest to deter drug use and protect student health. The court further stated that public school students have a lesser expectation of privacy than members of the general public. Students who participate in extracurricular activities have even lesser expectations of privacy due to the nature of these activities. These student dress and shower in communal dressing rooms and subject themselves to additional regulations and medical screening in order to participate.
In the 2002 Board of Education V. Earls decision, the legality of random drug testing was again upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. The court concluded that the random drug testing reasonably serves the district’s important interest in preventing and detecting student drug usage. The court further determined those students who participate in extracurricular activities should expect limited privacy and that the method of obtaining urine samples and maintaining test samples was minimally intrusive which did not constitute an “unreasonable search.”
Another parent legal question could be “Does random drug testing deny my student’s right to participate in extracurricular activities?” There is no constitutional student participation right to extracurricular activities. Participation is a privilege earned by adherence to district policy, state and Utah High School Activities Association policies and laws. Students have a right to free public education, which this policy does not deny. Utah code states, “there is no constitutional right to participate in these types of activities (extracurricular activities and student government) …”
Finally, district legal counsel has reviewed and approved this policy. In essence, random drug testing of extracurricular participants is legal and does not violate any student rights. The policy that we are proposing follows the principles and procedures proven constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. Our policy’s purpose is to project the health and safety of our participants, provide positive student role models for the school and community, prevent drug use and provide intervention for students struggling with drug issues. The policy only has extracurricular participation consequences which do not affect the students’ academic standing. Parent permission is required and the confidentiality of all test procedures will be paramount.
3. Will random drug testing reduce participation especially with students who would most benefit from extracurricular participation?
Anecdotal research of schools which have random drug testing policies indicate that when first implemented some students choose to not participate but as the school settles into the norm of random drug testing, students accept it, come back and participation is not affected. Furthermore, if students are considering participating in extracurricular activities at Grand County High School, they are required to attend orientation meetings in which the policies and procedures of extracurricular participation are explained. Students then must choose to abide by those participation rules or they are not allowed to participate.
These rules are based in Utah code, the Utah High School Activities Association, District Policy and the Grand County High School Athletic and Activities Handbook. These laws and policies states that those who participate in student government and extracurricular activities are prohibited from the illicit use, possession, or distribution of controlled substance or drug paraphernalia, the use of abusive or profane language when engaged in school activities, hazing and/ or assaultive behavior. Furthermore, student participants are expected to be role models; they play a major role in establishing acceptable standards of behavior and the reputation of the school and community. Therefore, a student who chooses to participate is already committed to following the rules of participation. The random drug test just provides the student with more incentive to avoid these behaviors. One of the main purposes of this policy is to give students a viable reason to not participate in drug usage. One of the greatest tools in any prevention program is to providing the struggling person a tangible reason to not participate in any at-risk activity. Students will now have that reason. “Sorry, I can’t go to your party this weekend because I could be drug tested at school on Monday.”
4. Why is the high school considering this policy now? Is it a statewide effort or a local effort?
Random drug testing in schools is not a state or federal program, mandate or suggestion. Schools and communities must decide if this program will help their students resist participation in drug usage. The Student Health and Risk Prevention Survey (SHARP) is sponsored by the State Office of Education, Department of Health and the Department of Human Services. The SHARP survey is given to participating students (students with parental permission to participate) every two years.
We just concluded this year’s testing, whose data will be ready for review next year. Part of the test given to student in grades nine through 12 is a “Youth Risk Behavior Survey.” The data from this survey is used by our community when seeking both state and federal “at-risk” prevention grants. The Grand County SHARP survey data from 2013 indicated that the high school 10th and 11th grade students’ use of alcohol, tobacco or drugs during their lifetime and/or the last 30 days was significantly higher than the state percentage. For example, the Grand County percentage of lifetime student usage of alcohol was 49 percent, as compared to the state percentage of 20 percent. The same group of students’ percentage of marijuana usage during their lifetime was 31 percent, compared to the state percentage of 10.5 percent. These percentages indicate that we need to address this issue.
Another reason for random drug testing is that at times the rumors in the community have indicated that the high school is ineffective in dealing with student extracurricular participants that do not follow district extracurricular policies. The community’s belief, at times, has been that students who choose to not abide by their commitments to be role models for the community, help establish acceptable standards of behavior and indulge in the use of prohibited substances are not held accountable. A random drug testing program demonstrates the high school’s commitment to help our students resist these “at-risk” behaviors and demonstrate student and school accountability.
5. What about the cost of random drug testing? Wouldn’t the funds be better spent on teachers?
It is a well-known fact that the district is working very hard to support our teachers and staff and begin to raise their salaries to meet the average state wage and local cost of living. We plan on paying for the random drug testing using an existing high school activities account that is already established. The district will not have to allocate new funds or reduce any funds dedicated to staff salaries to pay for the random drug testing program.
6. Will this be the only drug prevention program in the district?
No, the district is currently using the “DARE” Program at HMK to educate students concerning healthy life styles and the negative effects of drugs. At GCMS, both seventh and eighth grade students receive instruction in dealing with peer pressure, physical and mental health, the impact of drug usage on family relations, etc. The middle school program is assisted by Four Corners Community Behavioral Health. Grand County High School students study healthy life style and the effects of drug usage in their health and science classes. Are these programs enough? No program is enough when it comes to helping students choose a healthy life style. It is important to note that drug use is a community issue. Schools cannot do it alone. Community culture is extremely important in dealing with all social issues in a community.
7. Will student drug testing information be shared with the police or any other community agency?
No, the student test results will be kept confidential and not shared with any community agency or group.
I hope this information is helpful to the community.
Dr. Scott L. Crane is the superintendent of the Grand County School District.