For Schools

High School Students (Grades 8-12)
Teaching About Drug Testing in Schools


  1. Students will express their opinions about drug testing in schools.
  2. Students will examine arguments in favor of, and against, drug testing in schools.
  3. Students will consider and discuss consequences of a policy for or against drug testing in schools.


One class period (approximately 50 minutes)

Materials Needed



1. Begin the class by introducing yourself to the students, and telling a little bit about what you do, if this is your first class.

2. Tell students they will have an opportunity to "take a stand" on the issue of drug testing in schools. Write the following statement on the board: "Drug testing should be allowed in schools." Draw a line underneath, with polar positions printed at each end of the line. For example:

Drug testing should be allowed in schools.

Strongly in favor      Strongly against

3. Give students a few minutes to decide individually where their opinion about the statement "Drug testing should be allowed in schools" falls on the spectrum. Ask them to think of at least two reasons why they feel as they do.

4. Ask approximately 10 students to go up to the board and take a stand along the line at the point that corresponds with their opinion. Explain that if they are undecided, they should stand in the middle. (Remind them that even the "undecideds" should have a reason for why they are undecided.)

5. Once students are arranged along the continuum, ask them to clarify their position. Probe them for what exactly they mean. For example, ask those at the "strongly in favor" end whether they think everyone should be tested, or only those who act suspiciously. Or, are there some groups, like student atheletes or students with disciplinary histories, who should be randomly tested? Do those at the other end think no one should ever be tested, in any circumstances?

As students describe their positions, fill in the positions along the line with more descriptive words. For example:

Strongly in Favor                                                                                Strongly Against

Test Everyone   Random Testing of Everyone   Test Suspicious Only      Never Test

6. As students clarify and describe their positions, tell them that they are free to move to the point along the line that most accurately describes their opinion, and that it is okay to change positions, as they listen to each other.

7. At this point, ask students to give reasons for their opinions. Encourage discussion from the rest of the class by asking if anyone else in the class supports that position, and if they have any additional reasons to support that view. Again, encourage students to move if they are swayed by arguments given by other students. Encourage a dialogue between students at either end of the continuum, and with students sitting down. To encourage serious consideration of opposing points of view, ask students what argument opposite from theirs is most persuasive or makes them think twice. Spend about 25 minutes on this activity.

8. Ask the students to sit down. Continue the discussion by asking about consequences of different positions along the continuum. For example, what would happen if schools decided to test all students for drugs? Would drug use be reduced?

9. If time permits, have students write a paragraph about their position and reasons.

The most recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in this area is Vernonia v. Acton, 515 U.S. 646 (1995). The Court ruled that the Fourth Amendment permitted a school policy that prevented students from participating in interscholastic sports unless they agree to random drug testing. In this case, James Acton, who was a seventh grader during the 1991-92 school year, applied to be on football team. He was given a drug-test consent form for him and his parents to sign. This was done for every student trying out for sports. No one suspected James of using drugs. He and his parents refused to sign the form and he was then suspended from interscholastic athletics. The Actons sued the school district. However, the Supreme Court ruled against the Actons, stating that students have a reduced expectation of privacy and should expect intrusions on their normal rights and privileges when they choose to participate in high school athletics. The Court used a balancing test. It weighed the students' privacy interests against the interests of the school district in providing a drug-free environment. The Court also pointed out the athletes regularly change clothes in front of each other and can expect to have less privacy. Because the Actons had also claimed that the drug testing violated the Oregon constitution, the U.S. Supreme Court sent the case back to the circuit court to decide whether the testing program violates the search and seizure protections of the Oregon constitution.

In Willis v. Anderson Community School Corporation, 158 F.3d 415 (7th Cir. Ind. 1998), a federal circuit court ruled that a policy allowing drug testing for any high school student who is suspended for fighting to be a violation of the 4th Amendment, and indicated that a suspicion-based system was required for drug testing occasioned by fighting.

In Todd v. Rush County Sch., 139 F. 3d 571 (7th Cir. Ind. 1998), cert. denied, Todd v. Rush County Sch. 142 L. Ed. 2d 53 (1998), the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a drug testing program under which all students who wish to participate in extracurricular activities must consent to random and suspicionless urine testing for alcohol, unlawful drug, and cigarette usage. Extracurricular activities include athletic teams, Student Council, Foreign Language Clubs, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Future Farmers of America Officers and the Library Club. The court indicated that the linchpin of this drug testing program is to protect the health of the students involved. The court stated, "the plague of illicit drug use which currently threatens our nation's schools adds a major dimension to the difficulties the schools face in fulfilling their purpose--the education of our children. If the schools are to survive and prosper, school administrators must have reasonable means at their disposal to deter conduct which substantially disrupts the school environment."

Source: Adapted from lesson written by the Street Law, Inc. and updated in 1999. Staff at the Washington State Office of the Administrator for the Courts (OAC) edited the lesson. For more information, contact OAC Judicial Education, 1206 S. Quince Street, PO Box 41170, Olympia, WA 98504-1170.

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