Board of Education v. Earls (2002)

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The Supreme Court held that the Tecumseh, Oklahoma School District’s policy requiring all students participating in extracurricular activities to consent to random drug testing did not violate the Fourth Amendment and was constitutional. The Court had previously upheld the constitutionality of suspicionless drug testing for student athletes in Vernonia Sch. District 47J v. Acton, but were faced with an even broader testing policy here. 

The School District’s collection of urine samples for drug testing implicated the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. In evaluating the reasonableness of the drug testing policy, the Court weighed the students’ privacy interests against the policy’s promotion of legitimate government interests. 

The Court found that the students affected by the drug testing policy had a limited expectation of privacy. By participating in extracurricular activities, the Court noted, students voluntarily subject themselves to rules that do not apply to the student body as a whole. Submitting to these extra regulations diminishes an already limited expectation of privacy in the public school context. The Court also found that the testing itself was not a significant invasion of privacy. The method of urine collection was minimally intrusive and the only consequences of a failed test would be to limit a student’s participation in extracurricular activities.

The Court then concluded that the testing policy was a reasonable means of furthering the School District’s interest in detecting and deterring drug use among its students. In doing so, the Court rejected the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit’s holding that the District needed to show an identifiable drug use problem that would be addressed by a suspicionless testing program. An identifiable drug use problem is not strictly necessary for a testing program’s validity, but merely supports the assertion of a special need for suspicionless testing. Here, the School District offered sufficient evidence of drug use in its schools to show a special need. 

Read the full opinion here.

[Last updated in May of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]