Board Of Education V. Earls (2002)

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Board of Education v. Earls (2002)


Board of Education v. Earls, 536 U.S. 822 (2002), was a decision of the Supreme Court of the United States that upheld the constitutionality of mandatory drug testing by public schools of students participating in extracurricular activities. The legal challenge to the practice was brought by two students, Lindsay Earls and Daniel James, and their families against the school board of Tecumseh, Oklahoma, alleging that their policy requiring students to consent to random urinalysis testing for drug use violated the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution (Garner, 14-99).


The majority decision, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, with a concurring opinion by Justice Stephen Breyer, held that students in extracurricular activities had a diminished expectation of privacy, and that the policy furthered an important interest of the school in preventing drug use among students. This rationale was based on the precedent Vernonia School District 47J v. Acton, which allowed drug testing for athletes(Garner, 14-99).


The Student Activities Drug Testing Policy (Policy) adopted by the Tecumseh, Oklahoma, School District (School District) requires all middle and high school students to consent to urinalysis testing for drugs in order to participate in any extracurricular activity. In practice, the Policy has been applied only to competitive extracurricular activities sanctioned by the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association (OSSAA). Respondent high school students and their parents brought this 42 U.S. C. §1983 action for equitable relief, alleging that the Policy violates the Fourth Amendment. Applying Vernonia School Dist. 47J v. Acton, 515 U.S. 646, in which this Court upheld the suspicionless drug testing of school athletes, the District Court granted the School District summary judgment. The Tenth Circuit reversed, holding that the Policy violated the Fourth Amendment. It concluded that before imposing a suspicionless drug testing program a school must demonstrate some identifiable drug abuse problem among a sufficient number of those tested, such that testing that group will actually redress its drug problem. The court then held that the School District had failed to demonstrate such a problem among Tecumseh students participating in competitive extracurricular activities (Frank, 4).


A federal court decided in favor of the school district, but the 10th Circuit Court reversed this and decided in favor of the students. The Court ruled, first, that the students did indeed have protection under the 4th Amendment:

...any district seeking to impose a random suspicionless drug testing policy as a condition to participation ...