Deputy Sheriff, Doctor Challenge Suspicionless Student Drug Testing by Wahkiakum

News Release: 
Friday, November 20, 2009

February 1, 2007 update: The Washington State Supreme Court has agreed to review this case. Aguments are expected in May.

Last June, a Wahkiakum County Superior Court judge ruled that the school district's suspicionless drug testing policy does not violate the state constitution.

The ACLU continues to believe that testing students for drugs without reasonable suspicion of use violates their right to privacy. 

Oral arguments were heard today in a lawsuit brought by two sets of parents challenging Wahkiakum School District’s policy of suspicionless urine testing for students who participate in extracurricular athletic activities. The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington is providing legal representation in the suit, which was filed in Wahkiakum County Superior Court.

“Forcing students to submit their urine to officials is a degrading practice that treats all student athletes as suspects. The district’s policy is an effort to make a symbolic statement about drugs at the expense of students who simply want to be on sports teams,” said ACLU Legal Program Director Julya Hampton.

“We object to the urine-testing policy as an unwarranted invasion of privacy. We want school to teach our children to think critically, not to police them,” said Hans York, a deputy sheriff and plaintiff in the suit. His wife Katherine York and parents Sharon and Paul Schneider also are plaintiffs in the legal action. Paul Schneider is a medical doctor who has served as a Medical Review Officer in a drug rehabilitation context. The Schneiders have a child attending a District school, and the Yorks’ three children graduated from Wahkiakum High School.

In the fall of 1999 the Wahkiakum School Board in southwest Washington adopted a policy providing that all students who take part in extracurricular athletic activities be subjected to urine testing without suspicion. The policy was adopted without any convincing evidence that there is a significant problem among students with use of illegal drugs or that disciplinary problems have increased as a result of student drug use. Government reports show that teen drug use is on the decline nationally.

The urine collection procedure substantially invades personal privacy. Students are required to shed all extraneous clothing and to urinate in close proximity to an official. A student who is unable to urinate without a medical reason will be deemed to be a drug user and will be barred from all extracurricular athletics.

The lawsuit contends that the policy of suspicionless testing violates the “privacy clause” of the Washington Constitution (Article I, Section 7), which provides that “No person shall be disturbed in his private affairs, or his home invaded, without authority of law.” While the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld random drug testing for students, the Washington Supreme Court consistently has recognized that the state constitution provides broader protections for privacy than its federal counterpart.

In 1985 in Kuehn v. Renton School District, an earlier case brought by the ACLU, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional for public school administrators to search a student without individualized suspicion that he or she is violating the law or a school rule. In that case, the state Supreme Court found that the district’s plan to search all student luggage prior to a school band trip was unlawful. And in 2003 the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania struck down suspicionless drug testing of student participants in extracurricular activities under that state’s constitution.
Studies have found that suspicionless student drug testing is not effective in deterring student drug use. The first large-scale national study on student drug testing, which was conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan between 1998 and 2001, found no difference in rates of drug use between schools that have drug testing programs and those that do not.

Cooperating attorney Eric Martin of Davis Wright Tremaine is handling the case for the ACLU.