Student Privacy Gets an Early Win in School Drug Testing Case

Court Order Allows Students to Resume School Activities

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ACLU of Northern CA

Redding - Join the math club, take a drug test. That was the rule in the Shasta Union High School District until today, when a California Superior Court judge put a stop to the district's policy of requiring students to consent to random drug testing in order to participate in school-sponsored activities like marching band and math club. The court granted a preliminary injunction, voiding the district's drug testing program and allowing students who did not consent to testing to resume their co-curricular activities. The ruling is a promising victory for the three students and their families who took a stand against the district's policy.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California (ACLU-NC), in conjunction with Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP as pro bono counsel, filed a lawsuit in December 2008 (Shasta County Superior Court No. 164933) to stop the invasive and ineffective drug tests. The legal team later filed for the preliminary injunction which was argued successfully before the Court by Pillsbury's Tom Loran.

Under the drug policy, plaintiff and high school senior Brittany Dalton would not have been allowed to play with her flute ensemble at a statewide competition this month. Why? She and her father objected to the mandatory drug testing policy, citing privacy concerns. Brittany is concerned that being forced to urinate while a stranger listens outside the door would be extremely invasive and uncomfortable. Brittany's father offered to have her tested privately. But school administrators ignored this, and barred her from playing in band competitions.

For Brittany, today's ruling marks an important personal victory. She is now free to play in the statewide competition this weekend on May 9. As a senior, this is her last chance to compete with her flute ensemble.

"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," said ACLU-NC Staff Attorney Michael Risher. "Students should not be treated like suspects because they want to play in the school band."

Another senior, plaintiff Benjamin Brown, is an avid musician who plays the trumpet and French horn and sings in a competitive school choir. Music is the most important thing in his life. He consented to the drug testing policy, though under protest, because he had to do so before trying out for Honor Choir. He is concerned that if he is pulled out of class to be drug tested, he might lose respect from his peers who may think he is suspected of using drugs, and worries that the possibility of a false positive result would affect his ability to participate in school music activities.

"This was an extreme policy, far beyond what California law allows, and we are pleased that the court recognized this and granted the injunction," said Loran.

The third plaintiff, high school sophomore Jesse Simonis, joined Future Farmers of America as a requirement of an agricultural biology class. Part of the class includes raising a pig, something Jesse takes great pride in. After being called for drug testing, a school administrator told Jesse he would be kicked out of FFA if he did not submit to the test. The administrator targeted Jesse several times, including confronting him at a crowded cafeteria table and asking if he had taken the test yet. The administrator restated, in front of Jesse's peers, that Jesse would be kicked out of FFA if he did not comply. He submitted to a drug test. He tested negative.

Parents of the students also were named as co-plaintiffs in the ACLU suit, and fully supported their children's decision to challenge the School District's mandatory drug testing requirements. The suit seeks judicial relief from the Shasta Union High School District's August 2008 Competitive Representational Activities Code.

The preliminary injunction will remain in place until the case is finally resolved or until further order of the court.  The injunction applies to the entire Shasta Union High School District, including all three high schools in which random mandatory drug testing had been implemented.  In addition to Risher and Loran, Pillsbury San Francisco associate Marley Degner serves as a member of the ACLU-Pillsbury legal team.

Legal documents

Superior Court Preliminary Injunction Ruling (May 6, 2009)

Motion for Preliminary Injunction (April 10, 2009)

Amended Complaint for Permanent Injunctive Relief (April 10, 2009)

Plaintiff’s Reply Brief (April 27, 2009)

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