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ACLU sues PV District

Published March 10. 2011 05:00PM

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania filed separate lawsuits in state court Wednesday to stop two northeastern Pennsylvania school districts, including the Panther Valley School District, from randomly drug and alcohol testing students who participate in extracurricular activities, including athletics and school dances, or who drive to school.

The ACLU of PA believes the schools' policies violate a 2003 Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling requiring schools to justify suspicionless drug testing programs with evidence of a widespread drug problem among students.

"These policies teach young people to accept extreme invasions of their privacy when they've done nothing wrong," said Mary Catherine Roper, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Pennsylvania and one of the attorneys representing the students and their parents. "Random drug testing is also counterproductive, as studies have shown that extracurricular activities help students avoid drug use. Schools should not be putting up barriers to students' participation in after-school activities," she continued.

The Panther Valley lawsuit involves two students - siblings M.T., a ninth grader, and Jeremy Thomas, a 12th grade - who are not allowed to participate in after-school activities because of their refusal to consent to random, suspicionless urinalysis. An Eagle Scout and Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) member, Jeremy was kicked off the golf team after refusing to sign the consent form. He is also not allowed to attend his prom. Both siblings and their parents, Morgan and Donna Thomas, believe that the required testing program violates their right to privacy. The school district has not provided any data to show that drug use is a problem among its students involved in extracurricular activities.

The ACLU claims studies have repeatedly shown that random drug testing does not reduce student drug use. The largest national student study conducted by the U.S. government's own program, Monitoring the Future, found in 2002 that random, mandatory drug testing had no impact on students' rates of drug use. This study covered three years and included over 76,000 students nationwide in eighth, tenth, and twelfth grades. These researchers confirmed these findings again in 2003.

The second lawsuit involves the Delaware Valley School District in Pike County. The ACLU of Pennsylvania is representing a seventh and a ninth grader, sisters M.K. and A.K., and their parents, Glenn and Kathy Kiederer. The school district requires students and their parents to consent to a mandatory initial drug and alcohol test and random drug and alcohol testing throughout the year in order to participate in extracurricular activities.

Because M.K., A.K. and their parents believe that the policy violates the girls' privacy, they have refused to sign the drug testing consent form. As a result, M.K. and A.K. are not allowed to participate in drama, art club, scrapbooking, softball, volleyball, tennis, basketball, soccer, or, ironically, Junior Students Against Substance Abuse.

"We are very frustrated that the Delaware Valley School District has ignored the State Supreme Court's guidelines and has refused to change the drug testing policy to comply with the court opinion. We feel that the proper education for our children is to teach them to defend their constitutional rights, especially in the present times we are living in," said Glenn and Kathy Kiederer.

The DVSD drug testing policy was declared unconstitutional by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2003 (Theodore v. Delaware Valley School) unless the school could show additional evidence that the group of students undergoing testing had a high rate of drug use.

According to the complaint, the school district has essentially ignored that ruling and continued to enforce the drug testing policy. The school district has never compiled data that would support or refute the need for its policy. At an Aug. 10, 2010 school board meeting, the district's own solicitor admitted that the district had not "followed the Supreme Court mandate."

"We are optimistic that the Delaware Valley School Board will follow the 2003 opinion of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and follow the Pennsylvania Constitution. This will allow our clients to participate in all cocurricular activities without violating their constitutional rights," said Stephen McConnell, an attorney with Dechert LLP, who is representing the students and their parents pro bono.

The students and their parents are represented by Roper, Molly Tack-Hooper, and Witold Walczak of the ACLU of Pennsylvania and McConnell, Kevin Flannery, Michael Salimbene, and Kenneth Holloway of Dechert LLP.

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