Sports Law Blog
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Wednesday, April 14, 2004
Random Drug Testing for High School Athletes: Florida is considering legislation that would mandate randomized drug testing of all high school athletes. The bill specifies that a school district must test five percent of student-athletes. Most of the opposition to the bill is because of the considerable cost this would impose. Individual tests are expensive, costing approximately $50, and so it would take over half a million dollars each year to implement the bill.
Legally, there appears to be no challenge to the proposal. In a series of three cases, the Supreme Court has said that searches high school students are subjected to a much lower standard under the 4th Amendment than are police searches of other individuals.
In New Jersey v. TLO, the Court held that a school needs only reasonable suspicion, and not probable cause, in order to search students and their belongings.
Ten years later, in 1995, the Court upheld a local school board policy under which all students wishing to participate in interscholastic athletics had to agree to be drug tested at the beginning of the season and throughout the year (Vernonia v. Acton). The majority focused on three factors in reaching this decision: (1) the relative unobtrusiveness of the submission and collection of urine samples, (2) the “decreased expectation of privacy” of student athletes in the school environment, and (3) the important interest of school officials to take necessary steps to deter drug use.
Finally, in 2002, the Court in Board of Education of I.S.D.No 92 v Earls upheld a policy that required drug testing of students as a precondition of participation in all competitive extra-curricular activities, including non-athletic ones. The majority focused on the immediate and important need of preventing drug abuse and the more limited privacy rights of high school students. As one commentator notes, the decision seems to indicate a shift from a more reactive, disciplinary (search and seizure) approach to a more proactive, preventive, remedial (early identification) approach.
Although the Earls decision was 5-4, its combination with the earlier cases shows conclusively the constitutionality of randomized drug testing in high school athletics. This is bolstered even more by the evidence of steroid abuse by high school athletes, which moves well beyond "reasonable suspicion."
Having known one high school student whose steroid use contributed to his death, the danger posed by high school drug use is great. From an early age, athletes are told that they need to get bigger and stronger in order to make varsity or impress college scouts. High school coaches are often complicit in these schemes, turning a blind eye to obvious drug use because their players become that much better. Only through legislation will drug testing replace drugs as a key part of high school athletics.