Under pressure from the ACLU of Virginia, Mathews County has scrapped plans for a novel but controversial drug testing program for high school students. Under the program, the school would offer rewards--such as free parking and admission to school events--for students who submit to drug testing. Those who refused to be tested would not qualify for the rewards.
Acting on recommendations from superintendent Harry Ward, the Mathews School Board decided Tuesday to delay the program. Ward told the Daily Press that his decision was the result of an inquiry from the ACLU, the possibility of a legal challenge, and advice from his attorneys. He also mentioned that the Supreme Court could soon be deciding a case that might give the school board guidance should it take up the drug testing policy again at a later date.
"On the surface, this looks like a voluntary drug testing program," said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis, "but in reality it is not. There would certainly be pressure-- from peers, parents, and school officials--for all students to submit to the drug tests.
"With a few exceptions, students have a constitutional right under the Fourth Amendment not to be subjected to drug tests. Under the proposed policy, a student who chooses to give up that constitutional right will receive a reward, but students who decide not to give up that right will not. Mathews is bribing students to sacrifice a constitutional right. How would any of us react if Congress passed a law giving tax-breaks to people who give up their right of free speech?
"The ACLU is also concerned that this policy sends a mixed message to students. Schools first teach students that our constitutional rights are essential to a free, democratic society, then they turn around and ask them to give up one of those constitutional rights.
"The ACLU does not object to truly voluntary testing programs where there is no pressure on students to participate. The ACLU also supports combating illegal drug use through treatment and educational programs."
Several years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld mandatory drug testing of public school students under limited conditions. First, the tests must be restricted to students who participate in an extracurricular activity. Second, there must be a history of drug abuse by students who have participated in that activity. In March, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case challenging the right of schools to demand drug tests for students involved in competitive extracurricular activities, even where there is no evidence of drug abuse.

Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director, ACLU of Virginia, 804-644-8022

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