Join the Math Team, Take a Drug Test?

By: Rebecca Farmer

Just weeks before she graduated from her Redding high school, Brittany Dalton's flute ensemble won at a prestigious statewide competition. An accomplished musician throughout high school, Brittany would get to school early to have extra practice time. But her school tried to keep her from playing in this competition–the last of her high school career. Why? She refused to submit to a district-wide suspicionless drug-testing policy.

Brittany felt strongly that it was a serious privacy violation. A Superior Court Judge agreed and granted the ACLU of Northern California's request for a preliminary injunction to halt the invasive policy.

ACLU of Northern California filed suit against the Shasta Union High School District in December 2008, charging that its policy of random drug testing for students participating in competitive school activities, like marching band, math club, and mock trial, violates the California Constitution.

The suit is on behalf of students Brittany Dalton, Benjamin Brown and Jesse Simonis, and their parents.

Under the policy, students selected for testing were pulled from class, marched to a bathroom, and required to urinate in a cup while a monitor stood outside the stall listening.

Brittany, who just turned 18 following graduation, was concerned that being forced to urinate while someone listened outside the door at school would be extremely invasive and uncomfortable. She wasn't worried about the test result– Brittany has a serious heart condition, which makes it dangerous for her to use any drugs, smoke cigarettes, or drink alcohol.

Brittany's father offered to have her tested privately. School administrators ignored this, and barred her from playing in band competitions.

The judge's ruling came just in time, only days before the competition.

"I was ecstatic," said Brittany, recalling how she felt the morning she learned that the judge's ruling would allow her to compete with her ensemble.

Benjamin Brown and his parents also objected to the policy. Benjamin, also recently graduated, played the French horn and trumpet competitively, and sang in the choir. He consented to the policy under protest to be eligible to try out for Honor Choir, and was concerned that the policy could interfere with his musical activities.

"Music is the center of my life," said Benjamin. "There's always a chance of a false positive. If there was competition coming up soon, you wouldn't be able to participate."

"Students shouldn't be treated like suspects because they want to play in the school band," said ACLU of Northern California Staff Attorney Michael Risher. "This kind of mandatory testing impedes students' ability to participate in a number of student activities and intrudes on their privacy." Schools already have the authority to test students suspected of using drugs.

Another student, Jesse Simonis, joined Future Farmers of America (FFA) while enrolled in an agricultural biology class that required him to raise a hog to sell at a local fair. A school administrator told Jesse he would be kicked out of FFA if he did not submit to the test. Jesse eventually did so. He tested negative.

Shasta County Superior Court Judge Monica Marlow wrote in her ruling, "The district's goal of drug-free schools is admirable and commendable. However, the policy must be consistent with the California Constitution and the California Supreme Court cases by which this court is bound."

The district has insisted the policy prevents drug use. In fact, the policy targets young people who are least likely to use drugs. It may also deter students from participating in the types of healthy extracurricular activities that help them to steer clear of drugs.

No evidence has suggested a drug problem in the Shasta Union High School District that would justify the invasion of privacy inherent in the district's policy.

Jesse begins his junior year in the fall. Brittany and Benjamin will remain involved in the suit along with their parents.

Learn more:

Benjamin Brown, et al., v. Shasta Union High School District, et al

School District Drops Illegal Drug Testing Policy, Reaches Settlement with ACLU

Student Privacy Gets an Early Win in School Drug Testing Case

ACLU Lawsuit Seeks to Stop Shasta Union High School Districts Invasive Mandatory Drug Testing Policy

Rebecca Farmer is the Communications Director at the ACLU of Northern California.