While most Americans assumed their right to an unreasonable search were protected under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, students at a suburban high school in Chicago called St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights will be asked to forfeit their rights and to be subjected to mandatory testing for drugs and also alcohol this school year. St. Viator is the first school in Illinois to institute such a policy.
As with all “noble” endeavors to protect students, the mandatory drug testing was instituted after some individuals suggested they had “concerns” about underage drinking. Under the new drug testing laws, students will be asked to submit a sample of their hair. This sample will be tested to determine if the student has had alcohol in the past 90 days.
The administrators at the school acknowledge although drug testing has been going on since 2007, there have been few students caught. Administrators at St. Viator admit that less than one percent of those tested have tested positive for drug use.
Does this violate the right to privacy and is it an unreasonable search?
A spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union has stated that although the parents may ban together and object to the testing if they consider it an unreasonable search, because this is a private school there is no governmental intrusion on the student’s privacy. Students who are caught using alcohol will have two chances before they will face a disciplinary action.
Although employee drug testing has been going on for years and has been ruled not to be an unreasonable search, all of these actions beg the question of how to guarantee an employer’s right to ensure workplace safety while making the employee’s right to privacy a priority. Schools have less of an issue when it comes to adopting policies to protect their workforce and abide by statutory health and safety obligations.
For instance, it’s not like a student will be driving a semi-truck drunk and will kill other drivers. Students who walk to school drunk may simply be in danger of falling out of their desks. But students do have a right to avoid any actions by the school which unreasonably infringes on their privacy expectations and which could be considered an unreasonable search.
Many opponents of drug testing in school argue it is “counterproductive, expensive, and invasive.” Some also argue that students who are drinking may be expelled from extracurricular activities, the very activities that may be keeping them from other harmful activities, thus exacerbating the drug problem.
But the bigger question is should we acclimate a body of students to what could be construed as a violation of their Fourth Amendment rights by subjecting them to this kind of humiliating experience? Other trends are also emerging which erode a students’ rights and privacy including unannounced searches of their lockers and book bags, all without any evidence of wrong-doing.
My greatest fear is these actions condition students to believe an unreasonable search is okay. Are they also going to accept other unreasonable searches, which are currently perpetuated by the Federal Government (think data collection of your emails, voice mails, and DUI stops without probable cause) should not be challenged? It’s just like Big Brother and the Party in George Orwell’s 1984 justifying their rule in the name of a supposed “greater good.” But the real question we should be asking ourselves is whether we safer or if we are just living in an increasingly authoritarian state?
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