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Random Drug Screenings Approved by Trial Court for Students

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A trial court in Lycoming County found that a local school district's policy of random drug screening for students was supported by sufficient proof.

By Attorney Elisabeth K.H. Pasqualini, Juvenile Defense Lawyer, Harrisburg, PA

Random drug testing policies in public schools have a hard constitutional standard to meet. Based on a 2003 PA Supreme Court decision, the High Court articulated a  test for random suspicionless drug testing that requires districts to provide an actual showing of the specific need for the drug testing policy and an explanation for the basis for believing that the policy would address such a need.

In Fagano v. Loyalsock Twp. School District, the Lycoming County trial judge found that there was such an actual showing of need because of a drug problem in the school.  The District provided individualized proof that the students targeted were likely to be a part of the drug problem that exists; and reasonable proof that the policy actually addresses the problem.  The Court based its decision on the documented record that was inclusive of the following:

  1. PA Youth Survey (PAYS) data (drug and alcohol use);
  2. a drug incident spreadsheet; and
  3. direct testimony from school personnel describing first-hand experiences with students using drugs.

The Court also concluded that the District acted in good faith in developing the record documenting the drug problem by embarking on a year-long process that involved:

  1. appointing a committee;
  2. evaluating the District's reasonable suspicion policy;
  3. soliciting public input; and
  4. holding public meetings.

What's the Bottom Line?

In most districts, there are random drug screenings and urinalysis testing for student athletes.  However, not for the run-of-the-mill student.  This is because the participation in athletics is not a property right and there are legitimate safety concerns for such athletes if they are using drugs.  There are many legal implications to this decision that may likely be taken up to an appellate court.  Random and suspcionless searches of students for the use of drugs may be violative of the U.S. and State Constitutions.  Further, police involvement with those students reported by the schools to the authorities for possible drug activity adds yet another dimension.  This decision is binding precendent only in Lycoming County and in no other locations in the Commonwealth.

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