Why Drug Testing Students is Un-American

The end of summer typically places a temporary halt on certain freedoms and privileges enjoyed by American teenagers, but the mere changing of the seasons shouldn’t curtail their privacy rights or civil liberties. Yet more and more high schools around the country are announcing plans to drug-test their students—even though such policies are expensive, ineffective, and make teens feel like prison inmates.

Two schools recently drew media attention for joining the ranks of institutions that impose mandatory, random drug tests on certain students. Every other week, administrators at Crivitz High School in Crivitz, Wisconsin, will make five students—randomly chosen from a pool of kids who either have parking spaces or are involved in various extracurricular activities—give urine samples, which will then be sent off to a lab for examination.

Schools generally aren’t allowed to drug-test the entire student body without probable cause—that would violate the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures. But in 2002, the Supreme Court ruled in Board of Education v. Earls that administrators can mandate drug-testing as a condition of involvement in after-school sports and clubs.

In practice, this loophole permits schools to test a large majority of the student population. At Crivitz, for instance, 1,266 of the school’s 1,458 students are eligible to be tested for one reason or another.