Drug Testing and Searches at School

Drug testing is considered to be a type of search. For that reason, school officials may require your child to take a drug test when it is justifiable and the requisite “reasonable suspicion” standard is met. There are, however, in this context, certain exceptions to the reasonable suspicion standard, whereby your child may be subject to drug testing regardless of whether or not they are suspected of taking illicit drugs.

In a case stemming from Oregon, the United States Supreme Court found that random drug testing of athletes through urinalysis was not a violation of a child’s Fourth Amendment rights. The Court articulated a three-part balancing test that is to be used when evaluating suspicionless searches, consisting of: 1.) The nature of the privacy interest upon which the search intrudes, 2.) The character of the intrusion, and 3.) The nature and immediacy of the governmental concern and the efficacy of the means to meet it. Your child’s right to privacy in the school is distinct from that of the general population. This lessened right to privacy is even more pronounced for student-athletes, due in part to the voluntary nature of their child’s participation and the reduced expectation of privacy (i.e. communal showers and shared locker rooms). The Supreme Court extended this decision in a subsequent case, which now allows schools to drug-test any student who participates in extracurricular activities, such as the Academic Team, cheerleading team, the band and choir. Further, the urinalysis test is designed to detect only the use of illegal drugs, such as amphetamines, marijuana, cocaine and opiates, and not for medical conditions or the presence of authorized prescription medication. The circumstances surrounding a urinalysis test are no different than going to the restroom in a public facility, and a monitor is present only to make sure that your child does not tamper with the urine specimen. The procedure used to conduct a urinalysis test has been found not to be intrusive of your child’s expectation of privacy.

Your child’s school has a compelling (and judicially countenanced) interest to deter, detect and prevent the use of drugs in their school in order to preserve the safety of the school environment. The results of your child’s drug test are confidential and only school personnel who are on a “need to know” basis will be granted access to the records. Additionally, these tests may not be turned over to law enforcement officials or used to discipline your child. They are employed solely to identify if your child may have a drug problem and accordingly needs help. As a result, schools, at their discretion, may implement suspicionless drug testing programs that your child must adhere to if they plan on participating in extracurricular activities.

Can my child’s school use metal detectors and/or sniffer dogs to conduct searches?

Due to increasing violence in schools over the past two decades, school districts have been permitted to employ metal detectors to screen students for weapons or other contraband that may harm the student population. A metal detector, whether it be stationary or hand held, is considered to be a minimally intrusive search. The courts have allowed schools to use this method in order to ensure weapons are excluded from the school environment.

In regards to the use of “sniffer dogs,” it is generally seen as being non-intrusive since sniffer dogs are exploring for items that while perhaps not in “plain sight,” are within “plain smell.” In accordance with C.G.S. § 54-33n, if a sniffer dog alerts to a certain smell within your child’s locker or other school property that has been made available to them, it will likely satisfy the “reasonable, under all of the circumstances” requirement and school personnel may conduct a search of your child’s locker or other property. Note, however, sniffer dogs may not be used to search your child’s person unless the reasonable suspicion requirement is satisfied.

Although metal detectors and sniffer dogs are usually found to be minimally intrusive, your child’s school district must still have reasonable suspicion to conduct an additional search of your child or their property. If one of these devices was to alert school personnel of possible contraband, a search should not continue unless school personnel can show that it was reasonable for them to conduct a more detailed search at that time in order to obtain evidence that your child violated school policy or the law.

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