Board of Education of Independent School District No. 92 of Pottawatomie County v. Earls
Decided June 27, 2002, 536 U.S. 822

School district's requirement of drug tests for all students who wants to participate in extra-curricular activities is a "reasonable mean of furthering the School District's important interest in preventing and deterring drug use among its school-children."


A. Issues Discussed:
Privacy, drug testing  

B. Legal Question Presented:

Is the Student Drug Testing Policy implemented by the Board of Education of a school district, which requires all students who participate in competitive extracurricular activities to submit to drug testing, constitutional?


A. Background:

"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, 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."

On certiorari, the US Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

B. Counsel of Record:
Opposing Side
Graham A. Boyd argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief was Steven R. Shapiro. Linda Maria Meoli argued the cause for petitioners. With her on the briefs were Stephanie J. Mather and William P. Bleakley.
C. The Arguments:
Opposing Side
Unavailable Unavailable
Opposing Side
Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the American Academy of Pediatrics et al. by David T. Goldberg and Daniel N. Abrahamson; for Jean Burkett et al. by Craig Goldblatt; for the Juvenile Law Center et al. by Marsha L. Levick; for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers et al. by John Wesley Hall, Jr., Lisa B. Kemler, Timothy Lynch, and Kevin B. Zeese; and for the Rutherford Institute by John W. Whitehead, Steven H. Aden, and Jamin B. Raskin. Deputy Solicitor General Clement argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging reversal. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Olson, Assistant Attorney General McCallum, Gregory G. Garre, Leonard Schaitman, and Lowell V. Sturgill, Jr.

A brief of amici curiae urging reversal was filed for the Washington Legal Foundation et al. by Richard Willard, Daniel J. Popeo, and Richard A. Samp.


The Supreme Court held that:

"Tecumseh's Policy is a reasonable means of furthering the School District's important interest in preventing and deterring drug use among its schoolchildren and does not violate the Fourth Amendment.

Because searches by public school officials implicate Fourth Amendment interests, the Court must review the Policy for 'reasonableness,' the touchstone of constitutionality. In contrast to the criminal context, a probable cause finding is unnecessary in the public school context because it would unduly interfere with maintenance of the swift and informal disciplinary procedures that are needed. In the public school context, a search may be reasonable when supported by 'special needs' beyond the normal need for law enforcement. Because the 'reasonableness' inquiry cannot disregard the schools' custodial and tutelary responsibility for children, a finding of individualized suspicion may not be necessary...

[T]he students affected by this Policy have a limited expectation of privacy...students who participate in competitive extracurricular activities voluntarily subject themselves to many of the same intrusions on their privacy as do athletes. Some of these clubs and activities require occasional off-campus travel and communal undress, and all of them have their own rules and requirements that do not apply to the student body as a whole... Such regulation further diminishes the schoolchildren's expectation of privacy.

Considering next the character of the intrusion imposed by the Policy, the Court concludes that the invasion of students' privacy is not significant, given the minimally intrusive nature of the sample collection and the limited uses to which the test results are put. The degree of intrusion caused by collecting a urine sample depends upon the manner in which production of the sample is monitored...

The Policy clearly requires that test results be kept in confidential files separate from a student's other records and released to school personnel only on a 'need to know' basis. Moreover, the test results are not turned over to any law enforcement authority. Nor do the test results lead to the imposition of discipline or have any academic consequences. Rather, the only consequence of a failed drug test is to limit the student's privilege of participating in extracurricular activities...

The School District has provided sufficient evidence to shore up its program. Furthermore, this Court has not required a particularized or pervasive drug problem before allowing the government to conduct suspicionless drug testing. The need to prevent and deter the substantial harm of childhood drug use provides the necessary immediacy for a school testing policy. Given the nationwide epidemic of drug use, and the evidence of increased drug use in Tecumseh schools, it was entirely reasonable for the School District to enact this particular drug testing policy."

The United States Supreme Court reversed the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit judgment.

Justice Vote: 4 Pro vs. 5 Con
    • O'Connor, S. Pro (Wrote dissenting opinion)
    • Ginsburg, R. Pro (Wrote dissenting opinion)
    • Stevens, J. Pro (Joined dissenting opinion)
    • Souter, D. Pro (Joined dissenting opinion)
    • Thomas, C. Con (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Breyer, S. Con (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Scalia, A. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Kennedy, A. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Rehnquist, W. Con (Joined majority opinion)

    The ACLU, as counsel for respondents, urged affirmance of the judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit; the Supreme Court reversed in a 4-5 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent loss.