High School Sports

District challenges random drug tests of athletes

Random drug testing of student athletes is being challenged at the state Supreme Court as an unconstitutional "suspicion-less" search that violates privacy rights.

Some parents and students in the Wahkiakum School District in the lower Columbia River town of Cathlamet are fighting the district's policy of random urine tests of middle and high school student athletes.

The American Civil Liberties Union has gotten involved, hoping for a clear ruling that will declare the random testing unreasonable. The high court recently handed down cases affirming privacy rights, including banning random checks of hotel guest registers.

The Wahkiakum district, citing the strong anti-drug stance of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association and the district's desire to curb use of illegal or performance-enhancing drugs, says the random tests are a carefully tailored and narrow exception to the state's privacy protections.

All nine high court justices peppered lawyers for the two sides with questions Tuesday about locker-room privacy, how testing is conducted, and whether students in general and student athletes in particular have less expectation of privacy than the general population.

Many of the judges' questions appeared critical of the testing policy, but it likely will be months before the court announces its decision.

The district started random testing of student athletes' urine in October 1999. Positive tests can get a student suspended from a team.

Two families with high school students sued the district.

Wahkiakum County Superior Court Judge Douglas Goelz ruled last year that testing students was reasonable after less-intrusive methods failed to address the drug threat.

The case was appealed directly to the state Supreme Court. ACLU spokesman Doug Honig said few districts have similar policies and that others are watching for guidance from the court.

During lively oral arguments, the challengers' lawyer, Eric Martin, had barely opened his mouth when the judges bombarded him with mostly friendly questions about the case, down to the details about the urine testing and how students go through the process.

Chief Justice Gerry Alexander said there's little privacy if "Johnny Jones" is directed over the loudspeaker to report to the office for a random drug test. Justice Susan Owens said in small towns such as the one where she raised her two kids, it would soon be common knowledge if anyone flunked a drug test.

In South Sound

The Olympia, North Thurston, Shelton and Tumwater school districts do not have random drug testing.

"As far as I know, we've never tested a kid," Capital High School athletic director Mark Wells said.

Each of the districts has an athletic code banning the use of drugs that athletes sign before participating in a sport.

"If we have probable cause, if a kid is stoned, we can have an assessment," North Thurston High School athletic director Dan Clark said. "But we can't do it randomly."

Clark said there is support for drug-testing athletes, but no steps have been taken to implement a program.

"I'd like to see it go into effect," Clark said. "At least then, the kids would know it's there."

Gail Wood, The Olympian