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Drug Testing Student Athletes: Is It Legal?

Whether in high school or college, being a student athlete can be great. Athletes get to play a sport they enjoy at a high level and often have a portion of their tuition covered by athletic scholarships. However, it's not all fun and games. Student athletes in both college and high school have to endure long practices and training sessions, while also continuing to perform well in school.

Student athletes also have to take part in random drug testing. You may be wondering whether drug testing student athletes is legal, and the simple answer is "yes." Read on to find out why and under what circumstances drug testing student athletes is permitted.

Cases About Student Athlete Drug Testing

Americans have always valued their privacy, and because of this, there have been cases filed challenging random drug testing of students. The United States Supreme Court, however, has found that random drug testing of student athletes is not a violation of privacy under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. In the 1995 case of Vernonia School District v. Acton, the Supreme Court upheld a school district's policy that required students to consent to random drug testing in order to participate in sports. The Court found that because student athletes had a lower expectation of privacy than the average individual and the risk of physical harm due to an athlete's use of drugs random drug testing for student athletes was justified.

In the 1994 case Hill v. NCAA, the California Supreme Court decided that drug testing student athletes in college was constitutional. The plaintiffs were two student athletes at Stanford University who argued that random drug testing of student athletes violated their right to privacy under the California Constitution. The California Supreme Court decided that while California afforded its citizen a right to privacy, college athletes have a lesser expectation of privacy because they voluntarily take part in frequent physical exams, dress and undress in locker rooms with others, and share their medical and body conditions with trainers and coaches.

In 2002, the Supreme Court extended the instances in which students can be randomly drug tested. In the case of Board of Education v. Earls, the Supreme Court held that an Oklahoma school policy of randomly drug testing students who participated in non-athletic, competitive extracurricular activities was constitutional. Judging by the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court and various state courts, it seems as though the policy of drug testing student athletes won't be changing anytime soon.

Drug Testing Policies

Since it's currently legal to randomly drug test student athletes in college and high school, it's important to know some information about drug testing. The drug testing policy for high school students will be governed by each school district, so you'll have to look into your particular school district's policy to know where you or your student athlete stands regarding drug testing. For more general information, the National Drug Institute provides some background information on drug testing in schools.

NCAA Drug Testing

While drug testing policies vary from high school to high school, there is some uniformity among colleges because the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) sets basic guidelines for drug testing student athletes. The NCAA website has a page dedicated to frequently asked question about drug testing student athletes. Currently, the NCAA bans drugs by class, which includes any substance that is related chemically to that class. Some examples of banned drugs are street drugs, anti-estrogens, anabolic agents, and stimulants. Masking agents, such as diuretics, are also banned by the NCAA.

The penalty for a positive test for a performance-enhancing or street drug is strict and automatic:

  • A student athlete's first positive test results in losing one full year of eligibility and exclusion from competition for a full season.
  • If a student athlete tests positive for a street drug a second time, he or she will lose another year of eligibility and will be unable to participate in competition for another year.
  • A student athlete who tests positive for a performance enhancing drug a second time becomes permanently ineligible.

Getting Legal Help

If you or someone close to you is a student athlete and you have questions about drug testing, you may want to contact an education attorney in your area.

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