ACLU files suit against Lancaster County school district over drug testing policy

By Jon Campisi | Mar 23, 2012

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania has filed a lawsuit against a Lancaster County school district contesting its random drug screening policy for students involved in extracurricular activities.

The civil liberties organization, which jointly filed the complaint March 21 at the Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas with attorneys from the law firm of Dechert LLP, alleges that the defendant, the Solanco School District, is requiring the drug testing in violation of a 2003 Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling requiring school districts to justify “suspicionless drug testing programs with evidence of a widespread drug problem among students,” according to an ACLU of PA news release announcing the civil suit.

“In the past year, judges have issued injunctions to stop similar policies in two other school districts,” Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of PA, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the Solanco School District has not learned from other districts’ mistakes.”

The eight-page complaint was filed on behalf of Christopher and Mika Cox McDougall, who are suing on behalf of their minor child, identified only as M.M.

The lawsuit, a copy of which was provided by the ACLU of PA, alleges that the school district’s policy requires students as young as 11 to submit to “random, suspicionless urinalysis drug testing in order to participate in athletics or extracurricular activities through school or to obtain a school parking pass, in direct contravention of Pennsylvania Supreme Court precedent and the privacy protections of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

M.M., a middle school student in the district, is currently barred from participating in extracurricular activities because of her “refusal to consent to this unconstitutional invasion of privacy,” the lawsuit states.

The complaint aims to get an injunction against the district barring it from continuing its drug testing policy.

The lawsuit claims that M.M. was removed from her school’s orchestra and chorus at the beginning of this school year and that she has been ineligible to join any school athletic or academic teams since.

The school district adopted its current drug testing policy in 2006, the suit states, three years after the state Supreme Court’s decision in Theodore v. Delaware Valley School District, which held that “public school drug testing policies must be supported by sufficient evidence of need in order to pass constitutional muster,” according to the complaint.

Last year, trial courts in Carbon and Pike counties granted preliminary injunctions against nearly “identical drug testing policies under Theodore,” the lawsuit states, finding that those policies were “likely unconstitutional and prohibiting their enforcement.”

In his statement, the ACLU’s Shuford said similar drug testing policies like that required at the Solanco School District are not only a violation of students’ right to privacy, but studies have shown they do nothing to curtail student drug use.

In the ACLU’s news release, the McDougalls, the parents of the minor plaintiff in the case, said they were surprised to find out their local school district is “not only ignoring the law, but also the example of other school districts which have rejected the same policy because they understand that spying on students without suspicion is against the Constitution.

“These are young people who have done nothing wrong, not prisoners on parole,” the McDougalls continued. “We’ve tried repeatedly to persuade the district to abide by the state Supreme Court’s ruling, but it has refused. That’s unfortunate, because the district’s responsibility is to teach students to respect and understand the law, not sidestep it.”

The complaint states that the Solanco School District has provided no evidence of a drug problem among its student body to justify its drug testing policy.

The lawsuit is signed by Mary Catherine Roper of the ACLU of PA and Dechert LLP attorneys Stephen J. McConnell, Kevin M. Flannery and Kenneth J. Holloway.


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