Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Wyoming High Court Disses Students

President Richard Nixon originally declared the $1 trillion “War on Drugs” in 1971. This June marked the 40th anniversary of the government’s preference for punishment over prevention. As a result, the United States holds 25% of the world’s incarcerated population and taxpayers spend nearly $70 billion each year to maintain U.S. prisons. Overwhelmingly the U.S. locks up drug offenders more than any other criminal population. The nation’s anti-drug sentiment sparked by the War on Drugs hit home in Wyoming this year.

On June 6, in Hageman et al. v. Goshen County School District No. 1, the Wyoming Supreme Court upheld a drug testing policy for 7th to 12th grade students involved in extracurricular activities, including everything from Marching Band to Soccer. Students will now be subject to random drug tests, during which an observer will watch as students undress and pee into a cup. This can be as degrading as it is invasive. In addition, test administrators have tested for pregnancy and disease without the consent of the person being tested.

Arguing that suspicionless drug testing invades their childrens’ privacy, concerned parents challenged this new policy in the Wyoming Supreme Court. The Goshen County School Board claims that it wants to combat the purported risk of drug use in their schools. According to the Goshen County School District’s Superintendent,

“The policy recognizes that many of the students participating in extracurricular activities are viewed as role models to other students and that it is important that they avoid drug and alcohol use in their position as role models. It is also the position of the Board that to achieve the goal of reducing risks of alcohol and drug abuse and to maximize the skills and talents participating in extracurricular activities, it is important that participants refrain from drug and alcohol use. It is the belief of our school district that this policy will assist in that endeavor.”

But what the Superintendent fails to recognize is that random drug testing does not promote public safety or reduce drug use, it humiliates innocent students. The ACLU’s David Rocah notes, “Nationally, student athletes have been found to have higher academic achievement and fewer disciplinary problems than non-athletes, due in large part to the tremendous discipline required to balance a full academic program and the time demanded by practice and competition schedules. Singling out athletes...is both ridiculous and unfair.”

Some say that if students are not using drugs they have nothing to fear. What students fear is not getting caught – it is the lack of trust from administrators and the loss of dignity they suffer when they are required to expose themselves even though they haven’t done anything wrong.

The more time students spend in extracurricular activities, the less time and interest they will have in using drugs. But if they are required to submit to a humiliating process as a prerequisite for participation in extra curricular activities, they may be less likely to participate. The affected students of Goshen County are guilty until proven innocent. It is unfair to treat them like criminals just because of a survey’s loose group statistic.

Like the War on Drugs, drug testing has been shown to be ineffective and very costly to taxpayers. No one is condoning the use of illegal drugs, but a war on drugs shouldn’t amount to a war on students’ privacy and constitutional rights.

For more information about what the experts say, go to:
What the Experts Say on Student Drug Testing

To read the Wyoming Supreme Court’s ruling, go to:
Hageman et al. v. Goshen County School District No. 1

Opinion written by Alex Brink, ACLU Intern
University of Wyoming, Political Science, Pre-Law