The Hayden School Board was correct to require high school students to agree to random drug testing in order to leave campus for lunch.
The School Board voted Aug. 20 to approve the policy, which was developed and recommended by a parent-teacher organization after Principal Nick Schafer reported a problem with drug use among students at the school.
The Fourth Amendment protects individuals "against unreasonable searches and seizures" and is most often cited in arguments against random drug testing. Such rights should not be diminished, and had the school approved a policy implementing random drug testing schoolwide, the policy would not stand up to legal challenge.
But this policy is limited only to the roughly 80 percent of students who want to leave campus for lunch. Leaving campus is a privilege and it is not unreasonable for the school to place limits on that privilege.
The Supreme Court has been clear on this issue. In 1995, the court ruled that random drug-testing policies for high school athletes did not violate the athletes' Fourth Amendment rights. In 2002, in the Board of Education of Pottawatomie County, Okla. v. Earls, the court ruled that random drug-testing policies could be extended to all extracurricular activities.
The plaintiffs in Pottawatomie v. Earls argued the drug-testing policy was an unnecessary invasion of privacy because the school district had failed to demonstrate a drug problem among students involved in extracurricular activities. Those who participate in clubs and activities such as band and chess are not subject to routine physicals and are not dependent upon physical performance in the same way that athletes are and they should have a greater expectation of privacy than the athletes, the plaintiffs argued.
But the court ruled that students involved in clubs and activities sometimes travel off campus and often are subject to rules and requirements that do not apply to the rest of the student body. Such requirements limit the students' expectation of privacy. The court also said the intrusion caused by drug-test collections, when done properly, was minimal.
Hayden's policy fits well within the ruling. While going home for lunch is not an extracurricular activity, the same reasoning applies.
When a drug test comes back positive, the student's parents will be informed and provided with a list of resources that can offer assistance with treatment. The student will lose the privilege of leaving school during lunch. Those are fair consequences.
Schafer is concerned his school has a drug problem. He estimates between 50 percent and 80 percent of Hayden students use marijuana. He suspects 10 percent to 15 percent are frequent users and that some use methamphetamines and Ecstasy. In such an environment, the drug-testing policy is a reasonable tool for the school to use.
The best argument for the policy is that it was community-driven. It was developed and proposed by parents and teachers. A survey of high school parents indicated support for the policy, and a majority of students also have indicated support.
It is naÃive to think random-drug testing policies will eliminate drug use among high school students, but Hayden deserves credit for adopting a reasonable policy to address a growing problem at its high school.