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Judge bars drug tests for students in band, chess club

There is no evidence that illicit substances are used to enhance a student's flute playing, Northern California judge writes.

May 07, 2009|Victoria Kim

One student plays the trumpet and French horn competitively. Another competes with her flute ensemble. A third has been raising his prized market hog for a livestock show.

Under a policy adopted by a school district in Redding, Calif., about 200 miles north of San Francisco, those students are subject to random drug tests, like any others participating in competitive activities.

On Wednesday, a Shasta County Superior Court judge ruled that the policy probably violates students' constitutional rights and granted a preliminary injunction barring the Shasta Union High School District from enforcing the drug testing program.

Judge Monica Marlow ruled that the random testing would probably be found to be a "serious invasion of privacy" that violates students' constitutional rights against unreasonable search and seizure.

"Unlike participation in athletics, students participating in a math club, chess club, choir, band, symphony, or Future Farmers of America are not involved in routine regulation and scrutiny of their physical fitness and bodily condition," Marlow wrote. "Unlike athletes, there is no evidence that drugs are used to enhance a student's flute playing, choir performance, chess playing, debating skills, math team skills, or farming skills."

The district, which has about 5,000 students, began testing students in the fall. The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California filed a lawsuit in December challenging the policy on behalf of students and their parents, arguing that students participating in competitive activities are less likely than other students to be involved in drugs.

John Kelley, an attorney for the district, said students involved in competitive activities face "unique dangers" because they travel for competitions, sometimes staying overnight at hotels where they cannot always be supervised. He cited a November 2007 incident in which three choir students were caught selling prescription medication, including Vicodin, to other students on a bus returning from a competition in San Francisco.

"We should give children every incentive possible to refrain," he said. "Why any parent would not want to know if their child is taking illegal substances is beyond me."

The district also argued in court that the invasion of privacy is negligible because someone listens to the students urinate into a cup rather than observing them.

But some parents said the district was arbitrarily choosing groups of students to test for drugs, and added that they objected to their children being tested on principle.

"They're testing without any reason for suspicion," said Deborah Brown, mother of senior Benjamin Brown, who sings in choir and plays the trumpet and French horn. "Our country's founded on innocent until proven guilty, not the other way around."

As of January, the district had tested 391 students, including athletes, of whom eight tested positive.

District officials testified in depositions that one or two of those students were not athletes, ACLU attorney Michael Risher said.

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victoria.kim@latimes.com

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