School District Drops Illegal Drug Testing Policy, Reaches Settlement with ACLU
The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California (ACLU-NC) has reached a settlement with the Shasta Union High School District in a lawsuit challenging the district's illegal policy of drug testing students who participate in a variety of school-related activities, without any suspicion of drug use. The settlement comes after two courts – the Shasta Superior Court and the California Court of Appeal – ruled that the district policy violated state law.
The ACLU-NC, in conjunction with Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP as pro bono counsel, filed a lawsuit in December 2008 charging that the district's policy of random drug testing for students participating in school activities like marching band, math team, and mock trial, violates the California Constitution. The suit was filed 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 Dalton refused to submit to a suspicion-less drug test, feeling strongly that urinating while a stranger or school administrator listens outside the door is a privacy violation. As a result, the school tried to keep her from playing the flute in a prestigious statewide competition – the last of her high school career. Just days before the competition, a Superior Court judge issued a preliminary injunction in May 2009, allowing Brittany to participate in the competition. She and her ensemble won the top prize.
"As every judge who looked at this policy agreed, students should not be treated like suspects because they want to play in the school band," said ACLU-NC Staff Attorney Michael Risher. "Schools already have the authority to test or search any student if they have a reason to think they've been using drugs. But mandatory testing impedes students' ability to participate in a number of student activities and intrudes on their privacy."
"This drug testing program was an ill-conceived and unwarranted invasion of privacy applied in sweeping fashion, with no legal justification," said Thomas V. Loran, Pillsbury litigation partner and head of the firm's Pro Bono practice. "We are pleased our successful legal campaign on behalf of Redding students and families led the school district to suspend further mass testing of non-athletes, except in cases of reasonable suspicion of drug abuse – a fair standard we respect and one the original policy should have honored."
"I'm relieved that other students won't be have to choose between an invasive drug test and playing in the school band, when there's no suspicion that they have done anything wrong," said John Dalton, the father of Brittany, and a named plaintiff in the lawsuit.
As a result of the settlement, the Shasta Union High School District agrees that it will officially remove the policy of random mandatory drug testing of students who participate in co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. The ACLU-NC and Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP waived approximately 90% of attorneys' fees involved in this case.
In addition to Risher and Loran, Pillsbury San Francisco associate Marley Degner served as a member of the ACLU-Pillsbury legal team.