Informed Opinions on Today’s Topics : Student Rights vs. Drug Tests for Athletes

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In 1989, frustrated by what they called an epidemic of drug use, the school board of Vernonia, Ore., a small logging town, ordered that all students who sign up for sports submit to a urine test for drugs.

The decision was challenged by the parents of a seventh-grade boy who refused their consent for the testing. On the issue of Fourth Amendment protection against an unreasonable search, the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court last month voted 6 to 3 in favor of the school district, saying drug testing of high school athletes is not unconstitutional.

But that ruling has not settled the debate about student rights or how to fight drug abuse in the schools.


Is the drug testing of high school athletes a good strategy in the “war on drugs?”

Jeff Horton, member, Los Angeles Board of Education:

“I don’t think it is. I think it’s a waste of money. I’ve never seen any evidence that it works, so I am opposed to it. In addition, I think it is an invasion of privacy, so I guess I would disagree with the court. The majority of drug users are not athletes. That’s why it doesn’t impact on the overall problem.”

Mark Slavkin, president, Los Angeles Board of Education:

“It has not been an issue in our district so I do not have any strong feelings on the issue. We have not had testing for drugs in our athletes, and there aren’t plans I’m aware of now. My own personal opinion, is it should be done as a response to a perceived problem . . . Then I would not oppose some fair and reasonably organized way of testing.”

Matthew Walicki, former high school football player and a senior at Saugus High School:

“I think it’s a good idea. If you’re doing drugs you shouldn’t be playing. It’s going to hurt your performance in the long run. It would be a good deterrent for kids who are thinking of doing drugs . . . When you’re part of a team, there are certain regulations you have to follow and that includes not using drugs. So if there are tests, you shouldn’t have anything to be afraid of.”

Ramona Ripston, executive director, American Civil Liberties Union in Los Angeles:

“I think testing any student without any reason to believe that they are using drugs is a violation of the Constitution. If school officials believe a student is using drugs (then that is probable cause), but a suspicion-less search is a violation of their rights. The court held that students don’t leave their constitutional rights at the school house door . . . It’s not only a violation of the Fourth Amendment, it’s a violation of the right to privacy. When you take a urine test, you have to urinate in front of someone, because of the fear you will bring in someone else’s urine. To do that to someone without suspicion violates their rights.”