Mandatory drug testing for student athletes is a legitimate pursuit for high schools and colleges. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of this practice. Student drug testing policies, however, must be specific and clear.
Constitutional issues regarding mandatory drug testing for student athletes were explored by the Supreme Court in Vernonia Sch. Dist. 47J v. Acton (1995). The defendant was a school system in Vernonia, Oregon, a small town about 35 miles northwest of Portland. The school set up a random drug testing program for its student athletes in 1989, motivated by what it described as a drug culture out of control: "Staff members' direct observations of students using drugs led the administration to the conclusion that the rebellion was being fueled by alcohol and drug abuse as well as by the students' misperceptions about the drug culture" (Zirkel, 1995, p. 187). Notable among the students participating in drug use were student athletes.
Prior to instigating the drug testing program, the Vernonia school district tried numerous other remedies. The district invited speakers to counsel students on the dangers of drugs. Special drug abuse classes were developed to educate students. A specially trained sniffer dog was brought in to detect illegal drugs. Despite these efforts the drug problems in the district multiplied. School administrators then considered a broad program of random urinalysis for the entire student body but narrowed the focus to student athletes. The drug testing program the district established received the unanimous approval of parents who attended a special public hearing on the issue. The parents, like the school board, were motivated by the concern that athletes were leaders in the student drug culture and that drug use increases the risk of sports-related injury.
Under the Vernonia school district's drug testing policy, students wishing to play sports were requir...