Supreme Court limits school drug tests

The Supreme Court refused to review a lower court’s decision that barred two high schools from drug testing all students suspended for disciplinary reasons. In 1997, a federal appeals court struck down the testing policy by ruling that suspended students cannot be required to take a urine test before being reinstated unless they are individually suspected of using drugs or alcohol.The case arose when James R. Willis, a freshman at Highland High School in December 1997, was suspended for fighting. Willis refused to take the required drug test and then, with his father, sued the school district. By refusing to review the case, the Supreme Court secured Willis’ victory.

This case was a setback for government schools, which are trying to piece together drug testing policies to eventually test all students. In 1995, the Supreme Court supported government schools by ruling that random drug tests of student athletes does not violate the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches.

Then, last October, the Supreme Court declined to review a lower court’s ruling that schools may require random drug tests for all students who participate in extracurricular activities. However, no court has ruled that a government school may drug test all students.

This week’s recent court action combined with past legal decisions means that schools may only drug test students in extracurricular activities and those students who are individually suspected of using drugs or alcohol.

You may be wondering if the recent Supreme Court action means that your school must end its policy of drug testing all suspended students. Since the Supreme Court did not take the case, the legal action does not affect the entire country. Only schools and courts in Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, which are states under jurisdiction of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, must abide by the ruling. This is legally referred to as “binding authority.”

The 7th Circuit’s decision still affects you if you live in another state. If you sued your school for its mandatory drug testing of all suspended students, then your court would consider the 7th Circuit’s decision. This is legally referred to as “persuasive authority.” You or your lawyer would refer to this decision during your case.

More importantly, to reduce the threat of lawsuits, your school will be much less likely to drug test all suspended students. If your school does try to suspend and then drug test you, you can refer to this case and threaten to sue them.

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