September 22, 1997
Northshore School District suspicionless student drug-testing
I understand that the Northshore School District is considering implementing a program that will require suspicionless drug-testing of certain schoolchildren within the District.
Please be advised that it is the view of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington that the type of measure the Board is considering violates the privacy clause of the Washington Constitution, Article 1, section 7. This provision of our state constitution prohibits suspicionless searches of individuals . Drug testing by school officials or their agents is uniformly recognized as a government search.
If the School Board were to adopt such a measure the ACLU-W would intend to bring suit against the School District, to challenge suspicionless drug testing of schoolchildren, as soon as appropriate plaintiffs came forward.
In a case involving suspicionless searches of schoolchildren that was brought by a ACLU-W against the Renton School District, the Washington Supreme Court had this to say: "The validity of searches of schoolchildren by school officials is judged by the reasonable belief standard. The reasonable belief standard requires that there be reasonable belief on the part of the searching school official that the individual student searched possesses a prohibited item. When school officials search large groups of students solely for the purpose of deterring disruptive conduct and without any suspicion of each individual searched, the search does not meet the reasonable belief standard." The Court went on to say: "The general search is anathema to...[Wash.] Const. art. 1, [sec.]7 protections, and except for the most compelling situations, should not be countenanced." Kuehn v. Renton School District No. 403 .
Furthermore, corroboration of the meaning of the privacy clause of the Washington Constitution in the context of suspicionless drug-testing of schoolchildren can be found in a recent law review article. It concludes that a measure such as the one contemplated for Northshore runs afoul of the state constitution. See, "To Test or Not To Test: Article I, Section 7 and Random Drug-Testing of Washington's Public School Student-Athletes" 71 Washington Law Review 799 (1996).
I urge the Board to consider carefully the state constitutional and financial liability risks the School District will face if the policy direction under consideration is adopted.
Please feel free to contact me to discuss this matter further.
Gerard John Sheehan