State Supreme Court Rules Against Student Drug Testing

News Release: 
Friday, November 20, 2009

The Washington Supreme Court today unanimously found that Wahkiakum School District’s policy of suspicionless urine testing for students who participate in extracurricular athletic activities is unconstitutional. The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington challenged the suspicionless testing program on behalf of two families in the district, including a deputy sheriff and an emergency room doctor.

“Forcing students to submit their urine to officials is a degrading practice that treats student athletes as suspects. The court recognized that officials should not violate individual privacy when there is no reason to believe that a student has done anything wrong,” said ACLU-WA Staff Attorney Aaron Caplan.

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 or health problems have increased as a result of student drug use.

The court agreed with the ACLU 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.

Writing the lead opinion, Justice Richard Sanders said, “ … no argument has been presented that would bring the random drug testing within any reasonable interpretation of the constitutionally required ‘authority of law.’ ”

In a concurring opinion signed by four justices, Justice Barbara Madsen said, “ … suspicionless drug testing jeopardizes other important educational objectives, including preparing students to become responsible citizens who share a common understanding and appreciation of our constitutional values.”

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 published by researchers at the University of Michigan in 2003, found no difference in rates of drug use between schools that have drug testing programs and those that do not.

A report by the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Substance Abuse and Council of School Health in 2007 likewise concluded that random drug testing of secondary school students does not deter drug use.

Plaintiffs represented by the ACLU in the lawsuit include parents Hans and Katherine York and Sharon and Paul Schneider; Hans York is a deputy sheriff, and Paul Schneider is a medical doctor who has served as a Medical Review Officer in a drug rehabilitation context. Both families have children who attend or have attended Wahkiakum schools.

Cooperating attorneys Eric Martin and Natasha Black of Davis Wright Tremaine and ACLU-WA staff attorney Aaron Caplan handled the case for the ACLU.