How the drug war and demonization of drugs nullify the constitution.
The following article shows how ordinary people in a small town in Texas WILLINGLY throw the constitution out the window whenever they feel like it and ostracize a member of the community who opposes doing that for the sake of principle - one family out of an entire town. This type of unconstitutional behavior abounds in the war on drugs and addicts and manifests the deep hate and irrational fear the P/R paradigm has evoked in our country towards drugs and addicts.
NY Times, April 17, 2000
Family in Texas Challenges Mandatory School Drug Test
By JIM YARDLEY
LOCKNEY, Tex. -- For three years, people in this tiny farming town fretted that stopping the local drug problem was like trying to lasso the winds that blow day and night off the flat Texas plains. Teachers complained of students getting stoned at lunch. Parents worried about peer pressure at school to get high.
Eventually, after an emotional public meeting and demands that something be done, the school board here enacted what is considered the toughest school drug testing policy in the nation. It requires that all junior and senior high school students take a mandatory drug test. There is no choice; refusal by a parent or student draws the same punishment as failure to pass the test, an in-school suspension for first offenders.
Now, as many other school districts across the country institute drug tests, Lockney, with only 2,200 residents, has become an unlikely constitutional battleground. A parent, aided by the American Civil Liberties Union, filed a lawsuit in March asserting that the policy violated his and his son's Fourth Amendment rights prohibiting unreasonable searches. Arguments in the case could be heard as soon as this summer by a federal judge.
"They cannot tell me how I'm supposed to believe," said the parent, Larry Tannahill, 35, whose 12-year-old son, Brady, attends the junior high. "I believe in the Constitution. And because I believe in our Constitution and our rights, you're going to punish my son? I don't think so."
Since 1995, when the United States Supreme Court opened the door to drug testing in schools by permitting the testing of athletes, the unanswered question has been where would schools, and ultimately the court, draw the line.
Until now, school districts had been tentative in pushing the boundaries, particularly because legal challenges to wider testing are pending in Oklahoma, New Jersey and other states. But Lockney's policy of testing every student has shattered any boundaries.
"If the policy has no teeth, there's no use having it," said Donald G. Henslee, the lawyer representing the Lockney Independent School District. Mr. Henslee said at least a dozen other Texas districts had inquired about instituting a similar policy.
For Mr. Tannahill, the controversy has made clear the tensions that can arise when an individual challenges the will of the majority, particularly in a small town. He and his wife, Traci, are the only parents who are fighting the policy. He was dismissed from his job as a farm worker, though his former employer says the firing was unrelated to the lawsuit, and he has found a threatening note outside his home. Some people have invited the Tannahills to leave town.
Up and down Main Street, people say they do not wish Mr. Tannahill any harm, but they cannot believe one person should stop them from doing what they believe is in the best interests of their children. To many parents, the drug test is a "tool" to provide students a reason to resist peer pressure to drink or do drugs. The debate over constitutional rights seems secondary to many people.
"I don't feel like it's violating my rights for my kid to be tested," said Kelly Prayor, 35, who has two children and is a teller at the local bank. "As far as my kids' rights, they're not responsible. What rights do they have? They don't have a right to drink or do drugs."
Lockney, which is between Lubbock and Amarillo, is a tiny spot in the agricultural sea of the Texas plains, which stretch to the horizon, interrupted only by telephone poles and windmills and, occasionally, a tree. The local schools are the biggest employer, and the red logo of the Lockney Longhorns, the high school, is painted on the two water towers and displayed in the rear windshields of many of the trucks rumbling through town.
People in Lockney do not believe that drugs are any worse here than in other small towns, but the issue has generated attention for several years. In 1997, nearly 300 people attended a public meeting to discuss drugs. A year later, 12 people were charged with selling cocaine, an event that stunned the town.
By then, school officials were studying drug testing policies, including those in several surrounding towns. Most of the policies involved testing students for extracurricular activities. One nearby town with such a policy, Tulia, is continuing the testing even as it is under challenge in federal court.
But Lockney officials were intrigued by another town, Sundown, which instituted a mandatory testing policy for all students in 1998 that has yet to be challenged. Last December, the Lockney school board approved its own mandatory policy and notified parents that testing would begin in February. Under the plan, all junior and senior high students would take a urine test and submit to random follow-up tests. Employees of the district also undergo the tests.
Today, all 388 students in junior and senior high schools in Lockney have taken the text except Brady. School officials would not say how many tested positive other than to describe the number as a "Texas handful." The in-school suspensions given to first-time offenders last three days and require students to complete their class work in a separate room. They also undergo drug counseling and are suspended from all school activities for three weeks. Repeat offenders face longer suspensions, though not expulsion.
Julie Underwood, general counsel for the National School Boards Association in Washington, called the Lockney policy "about as broad as it could ever be," saying it resulted from the "slippery slope" created by the Supreme Court's ruling allowing testing of athletes. Since then, Ms. Underwood said, the court has resisted clarifying the parameters for testing and has sent mixed signals.
In October 1998, the court let stand a lower court ruling enabling an Indiana school district to require a drug test for students participating in after-school activities. But last March, the court dealt a blow to another Indiana school by leaving intact a lower court ruling that prohibited the school from requiring suspended students to take a drug test before resuming classes.
"School districts don't know exactly how far they can take this," Ms. Underwood said. "There hasn't been a definitive ruling by the Supreme Court on mandatory testing or random drug testing by school districts."
Eric E. Sterling, president of the nonprofit Criminal Justice Policy Foundation in Washington, predicted that more districts would emulate Lockney as more parents felt helpless to prevent their children from using drugs. Mr. Sterling said the policy could be a deterrent for some students but he cautioned that it could further alienate students at risk of taking drugs. He said the "presumption of guilt" created by the policy flies in the face of the Pledge of Allegiance that students recite every morning.
"Their sense of liberty and what liberty means will be offended every time they're asked to provide a urine specimen without any cause that they're using drugs," he said.
A lanky, laconic man, Mr. Tannahill says he is hardly a rebel, but he fears his neighbors are too eager to give up their rights. He said that he had not used drugs and that he did not oppose some sort of drug testing policy, though not mandatory. His stance seems far more libertarian than liberal: he also says that growing gun control efforts violate the constitutional right to bear arms.
His family has lived in Lockney for four generations, and he calls the town "a good little community." Yet he was incensed that under the school testing policy his refusal to sign a parental consent form meant that Brady was considered guilty.
"I'm tired of letting our rights just be taken away," said Mr. Tannahill, whose younger son, Coby, 11, attends the town's elementary school. "They are taking my rights away as a parent, telling me I had to do this or my son would be punished. That's what really got to me."
Mr. Tannahill, who graduated from Lockney High, added, "The teacher taught me that if you give up your rights, and you're not going to fight for them, you'll lose them."
Mr. Henslee, the school district's lawyer, said the board was reconsidering its stance on parents who refuse to give consent. He said the board remained committed to mandatory testing but was considering alternatives to punishments attached to cases like the Tannahills. Brady has been allowed to continue his normal classes and activities, pending the result of the lawsuit.
Mr. Tannahill, meanwhile, is struggling with life as a pariah. He said he had gotten friendly phone calls or quiet nods from some people, but few support him publicly.
His wife works as a clerk at a nearby prison. Unemployed, he builds miniature barns and windmills at home that he hopes to sell on the Internet. He said his sons had been treated well at school, as if nothing had happened, but he remained wary.
Several weeks ago, the family's pet boxer was sprayed with orange paint from a paint gun. Mr. Tannahill said he found a note outside his house that read, "You're messing with our children, and next time maybe this won't be a paint gun."
At a school board meeting in March, Mr. Tannahill and his lawyer unsuccessfully asked the board to change its policy. Hundreds of people packed into the Lockney Independent School District's high school gymnasium for the meeting, many of them wearing T-shirts that read: "We asked for it. L.I.S.D. delivered it. We appreciate it." Speaker after speaker extolled the policy to loud applause until Mr. Tannahill's lawyer was greeted with stony silence.
"If looks could kill, me and my family would have been dead a long time ago," Mr. Tannahill said.
Graham Boyd, a civil liberties union lawyer who is representing Mr. Tannahill, asserted that the policy had many failings, including that a urine test does not detect all drugs. But beyond the legal questions, Mr. Boyd said he was surprised at the tensions that had arisen.
"This isn't about race or religion or one of the things you would expect to inflame a community," he said. "This is about drug testing a 12-year-old boy."
People in Lockney say Mr. Tannahill is not in any danger, though a few concede they would not mind if he left. Residents described the drug policy as a common-sense solution to help children resist drugs. A few people expressed doubts about the policy, but an overwhelming majority of parents and students agreed with Jordan Lambert, a senior and the quarterback of the football team.
"I think it's great," Jordan said. "I don't see how we're being forced to when we're more than willing. Ninety-eight percent of the student body is more than willing. Nobody is being forced to."