The Indiana Supreme Court heard oral arguments May 3 in a case that could have widespread implications on the ability of schools to test students for drug use.
The Indiana Court of Appeals previously struck down a school policy of performing drug tests on students participating in athletics and other extracurricular activities but not suspected of using drugs.
Although some similar policies have been upheld in federal appeals courts, the Court of Appeals ruled last August that the state’s constitution provides greater protections against invasions of privacy.
It said the policy of Northwestern School Corp. in Kokomo “does not propose a direct correlation between drug use and its need to randomly test the majority of students for drugs.”
But Thomas Wheeler, an attorney representing the school district, said the policy was justified because the district had demonstrated a significant drug problem among students.
“The question is, how do we deal with that?” Wheeler told the five Supreme Court justices. “Do we throw up our hands and say we can’t do it?”
Several school corporations and education associations filed briefs in support of the school district’s position, as did Indiana University, Purdue University, and Ball State University.
Kenneth Falk, an attorney for the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, said students not suspected of drug use had a core right to their privacy and there was no reason to target those taking part in extracurricular activities.
“What we have here is Northwest School Corporation saying, ‘We want to represent to the world that these students are drug free,'” Falk said. “They have not demonstrated any nexus between the targeted group and the need to test.”
The policy became effective in January 1999. It was adopted after two students died of drug overdoses and a recent graduate was killed in a car accident involving the use of inhalants.
It applies to students in grades 7 through 12 and says those wishing to participate in athletics, certain extracurricular activities, or drive to school must submit to random drug testing.
If students are involved in such activities and do not consent to a drug test, they cannot participate in performances or competitions taking place outside of normal school hours.
Students Rosa and Reena Linke, through their parents, sued the school corporation over the policy. Rosa was a junior and Reena was a freshman at Northwestern High School when the lawsuit was filed.
The Linkes and their parents believe the policy violated their personal privacy and were uncomfortable about the possibility of providing a urine sample for school officials. Both students signed consent forms but objected to the policy.
“It has nothing to do with what I may or may not have to hide,” Rosa Linke, who is now attending Kettering University in Michigan, said after the arguments. “I have nothing to hide. I would come right up to you and say, ‘Hi, my name is Rosa Linke, and I do not do drugs.’ But that is not the point. The point is this is a given right to me via the constitution and our forefathers, it’s a natural right, and I have a right to my privacy.”
Wheeler said that under the ICLU’s position, schools could not search students even if someone reported that a student had brought a gun in the building.
“I suppose you would have to wait until the shooting took place,” he said.
Not only had some students died as a result of drugs, Wheeler said, but a survey taken in 1995 showed drug use in the district was 10 percent to 20 percent more prevalent than state and national averages. “We have a serious problem,” he said.
Other school districts around the country have been involved in similar lawsuits. A federal appeals court upheld a drug-testing program in the Cave City, Ark., district that requires students who wish to to participate in extracurricular activities to submit to urinalysis. But the Colorado Supreme Court in 1998 struck down the drug-testing program of the Trinidad district, which was challenged by a member of the marching band.
Julie Underwood, general counsel for the National School Boards Association, said the law is still evolving on the issue of drug tests in schools.
“The [United States] Supreme Court ruled in 1995 that student athletes could be subjected to random drug tests, because the athletic programs are voluntary and student athletes are role models,” she said.
“Since then, some lower courts have allowed drug testing of students engaged in other extracurricular activities. But some courts have struck down drug-testing policies, [and] no court anywhere has ruled that all students can be subjected to random drug tests.”
It routinely takes the Indiana Supreme Court several weeks to issue a ruling following oral arguments in cases.