Court gets one right, one wrong
July 2, 2002
The U.S. Supreme Court went 1-and-1 in big rulings last week, getting a decision on school vouchers right but falling short when it comes to drug-testing schoolchildren.
In the landmark Cleveland vouchers case, the court reasoned correctly that parents have the right to choose where their children get educated with public money.
The decision is being seen as another brick removed from the wall between church and state, because many — 95 percent, in some estimates — of the vouchers will be used to send students to religion-affiliated private academies.
With that statistic in hand, Justice John Paul Stevens said parents do not have a “free and genuine choice” in where to send their children — as if requiring them to pay taxes to fund a public education system they do not trust is an expression of free choice.
Instead, the Supreme Court gave families a real and practical choice. The long-term effect of vouchers on the public-school system has yet to be seen. They could strengthen public schools; they could ruin them. But the legal logic was sound.
That can’t be said for drug-testing for students who want to participate in extra-curricular activities.
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The ruling creates an overly broad violation of students’ right of privacy and, as one law professor said, asks them to “shed their Fourth Amendment rights at the schoolhouse gate.”
We recognize the need to combat drugs among the youth of society, but not at the expense of assuming they are guilty until they can prove themselves innocent.
Worse, we think the ruling will actually discourage many students — the very ones who need them most — from participating in extracurricular activities.
When we talk of the number of young people who find themselves at personal crossroads during their high-school days, wouldn’t we prefer those who have experimented with drugs or fallen into occasional use be given a chance to find an alternative, positive activity? Under a drug-testing program, they would be barred.
And what about the students, like the “goody two-shoes” Lindsay Earls who challenged Oklahoma’s drug-testing program, who would never touch drugs? Isn’t this simply a slap in the face to them?
The Supreme Court may say it’s legal, but that doesn’t mean schools have to do it.
In the long run, this may be the more important of the court’s two decisions. Unfortunately, it’s the one justices got wrong.
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