Student Drug Testing – It’s Complicated

April 13, 2022
Student Drug Testing

We recently noticed a rise in schools requiring students to undergo various forms of drug testing and drug evaluations. With this, there are often questions involving the legality and repercussions of student drug testing. Can schools require a student to undergo drug testing? What happens if my student fails a school administered drug test? What is the extent of a school’s authority to order that a student undergo a drug assessment? This article provides an overview of the law on student drug testing.

Schools Can Administer Drug Testing If There is Reasonable Suspicion.

Schools can require students to submit to drug testing. However, there are limits on the authority of schools to order testing. Why? A drug test is a search under the Fourth Amendment, and public-school students don’t check their federal constitutional rights at the schoolhouse door. This means that except for certain recognized exceptions, the lawfulness of school drug testing is tied to the concept of reasonable suspicion, which involves balancing the nature of the intrusion on a student’s privacy against the promotion of a legitimate government interest. Courts evaluating reasonable suspicion for a school drug test will consider

  • Whether there were reasonable grounds for suspecting the search to turn up evidence that a student violated a law or the rules of the school (i.e., was the search justified at its inception)
  • Whether the scope of the search was reasonably related to the circumstances justifying the search.

When Can Schools Administer Suspicionless Drug Testing?

The two categories of students subject to suspicionless drug testing by schools include student athletes and students involved in extracurricular activities. Vernonia School Dist., 515 U.S. 646 (1995); Bd. of Educ. of Indep. School Dist. No. 92 of Pottawatomie v. Earls, 536 U.S. 822. (2002). According to the United States Supreme Court, students who participate in after-school programs are subject to a separate set of rules that don’t apply to the student body as a whole. On a practical level, most schools include parental consent to student drug testing in the forms that parents sign giving permission for their child to participate in extracurricular activities.

What if My Student Fails a School Administered Drug Test?

If a student fails a drug test, the school has the right to impose discipline in accordance with its student code of conduct. The results of a student’s drug test, however, should not be documented in the student’s academic record. Furthermore, most schools agree not to provide the results to law enforcement or juvenile court authorities except through a subpoena or legal proceeding.

Can a School Require a Student to Undergo a Drug Assessment?

This question implicates The Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA), commonly referred to as the parental consent amendment, which is a federal law that governs student surveys, instructional materials or evaluations funded by the federal government that deal with highly sensitive personal information. According to the PPRA, schools may not require students to submit to a survey, analysis, or evaluation revealing information about certain sensitive topics without first obtaining parental consent. Read more about the PPRA here.