Testy

An Azle mom isn’t high on her daughter being drug-tested. Neither is the ACLU.

WHEN SCHOOL STARTED THIS AUGUST in the Fort Worth—area town of Azle, sophomore Jennifer Smolik was so excited about finally becoming a cheerleader that she didn’t even mind being drug-tested. But her mother, Donna Smolik, was not so happy. Last year, Donna refused to sign a consent form allowing the drug test, and Jennifer was kicked out of the French club in keeping with the Azle Independent School District’s policy that all students who participate in extracurricular activities must agree to be randomly tested. This year Donna gave in and signed the form—attaching a note saying that she was signing “under duress”—but she would not waive the AISD’s liability in the event of a false-positive reading. Jennifer was allowed to join the cheerleading squad, but her mother wasn’t placated: She called the American Civil Liberties Union, which now may challenge the legality of AISD’s testing program in court.

Since 1995, when an Oregon school district’s policy of randomly drug-testing athletes was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, districts around the country have instituted random-testing programs. In Texas many districts have such programs in place, from the West Texas town of Post to tiny Redwater near the Arkansas border, but the exact number isn’t known, since no state or local body keeps count. In some districts, only athletes are tested, but in others—Azle among them—the program has been expanded to include all students in all extracurricular activities, from the football team to the honor society. In Azle students are assigned a number, numbers are drawn at random by computer, and students are pulled out of class to give urine samples, which are tested at a local hospital for alcohol and drugs. First-time offenders are given six hours of counseling. Second-time offenders are suspended from their activities for thirty days and given ten hours of counseling. Third-time offenders are kicked out of their activities for the rest of the year.

Jay Jacobson, the executive director of the ACLU of Texas, believes such programs may constitute an unwarranted search, which would violate the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and he is not alone. Earlier this year a federal judge in Amarillo placed a temporary restraining order on the school district in the Panhandle town of Farwell until the court decides whether students can be penalized if they refuse to be drug-tested. Beyond that, Jacobson says, there’s the issue of psychological violation. “Drug testing categorizes people as suspected criminals without any reason,” he says. But the architect of Azle’s testing program, AISD personnel director Dwain Bates, maintains that a great majority of students and parents do like it. “This program is offered as a crutch to kids to help them say no,” says Bates, who explains that its goal is to counteract peer pressure on students by giving them an out: They can now say that because they want to keep playing football or stay in the band, they can’t risk using drugs.

Perhaps. But Donna Smolik believes only suspicious behavior should warrant a drug test. She promises to mount her crusade until the ACLU takes up her case—and beyond. Her neighbors think she should drop it, and even her daughter tells her “not to fight the system, because nothing will change,” she says. “But I have to try.”

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