The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey filed a lawsuit today challenging Hunterdon Central Regional High School’s recently expanded drug testing policy that requires students participating in athletics, extracurricular activities and parking on campus to submit to random tests for drug and alcohol use. The school has in the past randomly tested student athletes but began to phase in the expanded policy at the end of the last semester. The new policy is scheduled to go into full effect on September 8, 2000.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of three families with students at Hunterdon Central who believe that the policy violates student rights under the New Jersey Constitution. The ACLU-NJ argues that the policy is unjustified and is an invasion of students’ rights to privacy. In addition, the policy does not require the type of individualized suspicion of wrongdoing usually required to justify drug testing.
“Under the State Constitution individuals cannot be subjected to searches, such as urine tests, without evidence that they have done something wrong or unless the government demonstrates a great need for such a search. At Hunterdon Central there is no reason to believe that there is a drug problem among the students involved in extracurricular activities that would justify this sweeping drug testing policy,” explained J.C. Salyer, Staff Attorney for the ACLU-NJ. “To the contrary, Hunterdon Central appears to be an excellent school that consistently produces successful students,” Salyer added.
“My husband and I are filing this lawsuit on behalf of our daughter, Melissa” said Joan Z. Greiner, one of the parents represented in the lawsuit. “The protections of the Constitution have provided a good life for my family and me. We want to preserve this way of life for our children and their children.” Melissa Greiner will be a senior at Hunterdon Central in September and has participated in varsity gymnastics for the past two years.
Greiner served on Hunterdon Central’s Drug Testing Task Force, which recommended the policy, as a representative of parents with children who participate in athletic programs at the school. In that capacity, Greiner repeatedly sought an explanation for why Hunterdon Central needed a random drug testing program that targeted students who participate in extracurricular activities. Because Greiner never received an adequate explanation, she voted against the policy.
The ACLU-NJ also represents Deborah, Michael and Shaun Joye. Shaun will be a junior in September and has participated in a variety of extra-curricular activities including an online literary magazine. Last spring, Shaun was not allowed to participate in a school play because his parents objected to signing the school’s random testing consent form.
The third student in the suit, senior Anna Zdepski, has participated in Model United Nations sessions, an online science magazine, and “PULSE,” a student organization formed to promote interaction and understanding between gay and heterosexual students. Anna and her parents, Mark and Linda Zdepski, do not want her participation in these programs to require her submitting to an invasive and unnecessary urine test.
The matter raises public policy questions as well as constitutional problems. It calls into question the wisdom of requiring drug testing for students who wish to pursue extracurricular activities. Students who participate in sports and other school activities after school are less likely to use drugs than other students and testing policies discourage involvement in activities that complement students classes and may expand opportunities for college admissions and scholarships.
The issue also brings into question to the role of educators. "When we send our children to the public schools, we trust and expect officials there to look out for their welfare and safety. But there is a line between assisting parents by looking out for students, and usurping parental authority by invading students' legitimate rights to privacy. That line obviously has been crossed here.” said Deborah Jacobs, ACLU-NJ Executive Director. Jacobs also noted that state statutes authorizing school officials to test students legitimately suspected of drug use already provide schools with ways of dealing with drug use without resorting to sweeping random drug testing policies.
Although the United States Supreme Court has allowed random drug testing of student athletes if a school demonstrates a special need to test, this case is brought under the New Jersey State Constitution which provides greater privacy protections than its federal counterpart. One New Jersey court has previously enjoined a Ridgefield Park high school’s policy that called for the random testing of student athletes because the school had failed to show a need for the testing program.
The plaintiffs are represented by Ravinder S. Bhalla of the Newark firm Krovatin & Associates and J.C. Salyer and Lenora Lapidus of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey Foundation. The lawsuit captioned, Joye et al. v. Hunterdon Central Regional Board of Education et al., was filed today in the Superior Court of New Jersey in Hunterdon County.