Drug Testing: My Kid Is Drug-Free (cont.)
Lockney district officials say they decided to implement the new policy after concluding that their schools had a significant and growing drug problem. The board began discussing the policy in 1997, when 13 indictments were handed down against local drug dealers.
"The information [police] got from the dealers is that they were selling to the students," said Don Henslee, an Austin, Texas, lawyer representing the Lockney school system. "Based on that, the community literally insisted that the school system do something in terms of a drug policy."
It's an outcry that's been heard in school districts across the country. But after several decades of Supreme Court rulings, legal experts say that districts only have the clear right to test students engaged in sports or other extracurricular activities. Blanket testing of all students has not yet been reviewed by the high court.
The right of schools to test athletes stems from a 1995 case in which the Supreme Court upheld a Veronia, Ore., school district's policy of testing all student athletes. Other federal courts later expanded the scope of that ruling to include students involved in other school-sponsored extracurricular activities.
Writing for the majority in the Oregon case, Justice Antonin Scalia reasoned that testing student athletes is justified because other students might emulate them. "It seems to us self-evident that a drug problem largely fueled by the 'role model' effect of athletes' drug use, and of particular danger to athletes, is effectively addressed by making sure that athletes do not use drugs," he wrote.
Broad testing policies are being challenged in other parts of the country as well. In Maryland, the ACLU and a group of parents have filed suit against Talbot County school officials, who in January ordered urine testing of 18 students at Easton High School. All of them had attended a party where drugs were said to have been used. The specimen bottles were lined up on the stage of the school auditorium where they could be viewed by students, teachers, and parents. They were then tested with cheap throwaway kits similar to those used for home pregnancy tests.
One of those tested was 15-year-old Jamie Nolan, who said she felt violated by the process. "I did not appreciate that the school took time during -- review for final exams in order to wrongfully accuse us and make us feel guilty," she told WebMD.
Another Easton High student who tested positive was expelled -- and then reinstated when a private testing company reexamined the student's specimen and found no evidence of drug use.
The Lockney case is now in discovery and is not expected to be heard in federal court until the end of the year. Eventually, ACLU lawyers predict, it could end up at the Supreme Court, where the justices may finally determine how far school districts can go in their search for students on drugs.
Meanwhile, the Tannahills are using their mutual love of baseball to help them cope with the tension of the case. The end of a long day is often the beginning of a long game of catch in the front yard of their home. Larry has coached Brady's baseball teams for years, watching him rise from T-ball to the "major league" level in the area's Little League program.
In between games, father and son give interviews; their story is being told around the world. Brady remains a bit bewildered by it all. "I don't understand why so many people are so interested," he says.
Tannahill doesn't know what to expect if his case goes before the U.S. Supreme Court. He filed this lawsuit, he says, because he's determined to protect his son's rights, and his own rights as a parent.
"My boy was given to my wife and me by God," he says. "In the end, it is our responsibility to raise him. He is not the school district's responsibility."
Michael D. Towle is based in Chantilly, Va., and writes regularly on health and legal issues for WebMD.
©1996-2005 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.