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Originally published Sunday, March 16, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Editorial

Court right to reject athletes' drug tests

Illegal drugs are a challenge for schools charged with the health and safety of children, but the Washington Supreme Court correctly rejects random drug testing as the solution.

Illegal drugs are a challenge for schools charged with the health and safety of children, but the Washington Supreme Court correctly rejects random drug testing as the solution.

The high court's ruling last week addressed a narrow question: Can middle- and high-school athletes be randomly tested for drugs as a precondition for participation in sports? The answer is no.In the nearly 10-year-old case before the court, the Wahkiakum School Board adopted a policy requiring students in athletic programs to undergo urine testing. This was done despite an absence of proof or strong suspicion that drug use was a problem among athletes.

The U.S. Supreme Court gave a pass to random searches and drug tests in certain cases. Its rationale was that despite the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, circumstances can present "special needs."

Our state constitution is crystal clear. Article 1 Section 7 reads: "No person shall be disturbed in his private affairs, or his home invaded without the authority of the law."

Our state Supreme Court noted that "a student athlete has a genuine and fundamental privacy interest in controlling his or her own bodily functions ... even if done in an enclosed stall, this is a significant intrusion on a student's fundamental right of privacy."

Schools are not without some authority. Students found with illegal drugs are subject to suspension, expulsion and criminal prosecution. The challenge is ferreting out the students using the drugs from those who are not. Random searches don't help. Why athletes and not the marching band or the cheerleading squad? And who monitors the students uninvolved in extracurricular activities?

Random tests have not been shown to curb illegal drug use. A substantial study from the University of Michigan surveyed 94,000 middle- and high-school students and found little difference in drug-use rates among schools that employed testing programs and those that did not.

A March 2007 report by the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that random drug testing of high-school students doesn't deter drug use. Instead, teens may actually be encouraged by the drug tests to switch to less-detectable substances, such as alcohol and inhalants.

The state's highest court has spoken. Schools cannot randomly search students for drugs. But they can get to know their students. A slower catchment, to be sure, but one likely to offer more specific and helpful details than a cup of urine.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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