CHEYENNE, Wyo. — The Wyoming Supreme Court on Monday upheld the constitutionality of a Goshen County school district rule requiring drug and alcohol testing for students in extracurricular activities.
Dozens of students and their parents had sued Goshen County School District 1, claiming that such testing of students in grades 7-12 violated students’ constitutional rights to equal protection and due process, and against unreasonable search and seizure.
In a 5-0 decision, Wyoming Supreme Court justices upheld a lower court’s ruling in favor of the school district, saying Wyoming school districts have a “compelling interest” in providing for the safety and welfare of their students.
Goshen County has ranged at or near the top for alcohol and drug use in several Wyoming Department of Health statewide surveys in recent years. A 2008 survey found that 52 percent of 12th graders were at risk of harm from drug use.
Given this problem, it’s up to the school district to decide how best to deal with it, Justice James Burke wrote in the court’s decision.
“School districts in Wyoming have ‘wide discretion in the management of the district’s affairs,’ and this Court ‘will not interfere with an honest exercise of discretion by public boards or officers,’” Burke wrote, quoting previous Supreme Court rulings.
In addition, because students join extracurricular activities by choice, Burke wrote, “their reasonable expectations of privacy are even more limited than those of the general student population.”
Since 2009, Goshen County School District 1 has required that any student who doesn’t sign a form agreeing to the testing by a company contracted by the district won’t be allowed to participate in activities including sports, cheerleading, marching band and drama.
For a first offense, the school district notifies the student’s parents and sends the student to a drug assessment with a counselor. Usually, the student is allowed to rejoin his or her after-school activity within a few days, said Goshen County School District 1 Superintendent Ray Schulte.
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Repeat offenders are treated more severely; students who fail a drug test three times are banned from playing sports or participating in school extracurriculars for a year.
Since the policy was set up, Schulte said between 15 and 20 students have tested positive for drugs or alcohol.
Schulte said he was “pleased” that the Supreme Court agreed with the school district.
“We certainly like to be affirmed that our students’ constitutional rights haven’t been violated,” he said.
The goal of the policy, Schulte said, is to deter students from consuming drugs or alcohol in the first place. It also gives students an excuse to refuse drugs or alcohol from others, he said.
“Informally from students, we’ve heard that they are using that as a reason to say ‘no,’” he said.
Besides Goshen County School District 1, eight other school districts in Wyoming mandate some form of drug and alcohol testing for students participating in extracurricular activities.
But Veteran resident Jeff McClun, a co-plantiff in the lawsuit who was elected to the Goshen County School District 1 Board in November, said he was “shocked” by the court’s ruling in favor of the drug testing rule.
“It seems to me like it’s an unlawful search and seizure,” said McClun, who currently has two daughters in Goshen County public schools. “You’re trying [students] before they’re even suspected of anything.”
McClun said he’d work as a school board member to scrap the drug testing requirement, though he said that’s unlikely to happen anytime soon given strong support for the policy from other board members.
“I’d probably be wasting my breath,” he said.