US Supreme Court to look at an Oklahoma school's drug testing policy

Thursday, November 8th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

The US Supreme Court will decide how far educators can go to keep America's classrooms drug-free. The case is based on a lower court's decision in a rural Oklahoma case. That court ruled the school district was violating the Constitution's ban on unreasonable searches by randomly testing students involved in extracurricular activities, such as chorus.

So what does the ACLU locally have to say about the case? And where do Tulsa area schools stand on the issue? News on 6 reporter Steve Berg talked with them and says surprisingly, the two sides actually agree on some of this. The fact is there's not much drug testing of students in the Tulsa area. And where there is, they more or less agree it's necessary.

Testing here has focused on athletes. Mainly due to concerns about performance-enhancing drugs like steroids. But also because school officials say the kids could get hurt if they were impaired by some kind of narcotic. ACLU Lawyer William Hinkle says that makes sense, "But in the case of this Tecumseh school they tested everybody who wanted to be involved in any extracurricular activity, which they testified was the vast majority of students in the school."

Everyone from the football team, to the music department. And that's where he says the ACLU has a problem. He says officials have to demonstrate a problem, or at least the potential for a problem, before they can infringe on a person's privacy. “In America the problem comes before the government action intruding on our lives, the government's not allowed to go out looking to see if they can create a problem.”

Tulsa Public Schools don't do any kind of testing. They understand the legal arguments. But they have an even more practical reason. They say it would cost a ton of money. Jack Arnold with Tulsa Public Schools, "This is such a massive undertaking and I'm not sure that the outcome would be that productive for the cost and effort to be honest with you."

In Tecumseh, which is now before the Supreme Court, they tested about 500 students over two years and only four tested positive. That is way below the national average.

The good news is that in general, drug use among teens has leveled off, but the bad news is the problem with methamphetamine in particular has skyrocketed.