Random drug testing policy is invasive and counterproductive, ACLU-NJ says in letter

The ACLU of New Jersey has put the Livingston Board of Education on notice.

The ACLU-NJ warned in a letter (PDF) that Livingston High School’s proposed random drug testing policy threatens students’ rights and runs counter to the school’s stated goals of diverting drug abuse.

“Random drug testing is invasive and counterproductive,” said the ACLU-NJ’s letter, drafted by ACLU-NJ Law Fellow Liza Weisberg. “Studies show that participation in extracurricular activities is correlated with abstinence from drugs. Policies that condition participation on submission to random drug testing deny benefits to students who decline to submit—whether out of principle, embarrassment, fear, or otherwise.”

Livingston High School’s policy would randomly pick students out of their classes and submit them to drug tests. All students who have school parking permits or participate in extracurricular activities, including sports, would automatically be put into the random drug sampling pool. Students who opt out face a steep price in an age when college admission has never been more competitive: disqualification from extracurricular activities.

The ACLU of New Jersey strongly opposes random drug testing proposed policies. Not only is there no evidence that random drug tests deter student drug use, but such random drug testing damages relationships between students and educators. In fact, a study found that a perceived positive school climate – which invasive measures like random drug testing diminish – is associated with reduced drug use.

As the ACLU-NJ’s letter said: “Random drug testing erodes trust between students and educators and makes young people into perpetual suspects on school grounds.”

Both the U.S. Constitution and the New Jersey Constitution prohibit unreasonable searches and seizures. A random drug test, which constitutes a warrantless search without suspicion, can pass constitutional muster only if the school can show specific, exceptional special needs to justify such a drastic policy. Even then, the school district must undergo a rigorous, complex process before it can institute a drug testing program.

Schools can take measures to address student drug abuse. But random drug testing is too invasive and undermines constitutional values.

The policy proposal has met with vocal opposition. Livingston families are organizing against the policy and plan to hold forums. The school district held an information session to discuss this issue on October 12, and another is tentatively scheduled for December 6. Read the ACLU-NJ’s letter online (PDF).