Thursday, January 27, 2011

Ohio school district to require students to undergo breathalyzer before entering school dance. Is it constitutional?

The Columbus Dispatch today is reporting that students at Medina High School, in Medina, Ohio, will have to take a breathalzyer test before attending the school's sweatheart dance.

The new rule takes effect as a result of two students showing up drunk to the school's homecoming dance.

But is the school district permitted to take such a step under the U.S. Constitution? Maybe. Almost thirty years ago, the Ohio Attorney General issued an opinion that school boards may administer breath tests when students are suspected of having consumed alcoholic beverages. The board has to have found that such rules and regulations are ncessary to the effective management of their schools. 1983 OAG No. 012.

Nonetheless, such a policy must still conform to constitutional mandates, no matter what the Attorney General believes. If a particular student is reasonably believed to be under the influence, there seems to be not much doubt that a student could be required to undergo a breathalyzer. The odor of alcohol and impaired behavior may be enough to reach the "reasonable" standard in this context. See e.g. Martinez v. School Dist. No. 60, 852 P.2d

The more difficult question is can the test be required to ALL students before entering the school dance. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld random, suspicionless drug testing of all students engaged in competitive extracurricular activities. However, courts generally require such testing policies set forth adequate safeguards to ensure reliability, privacy during testing, and confidentiality of results. See e.g. Crager v. Bd. of Educ., 313 F. Supp. 2d 690 (6th Cir. 2004). It seems likely that the breath-testing will be done in front of a number of people, including other students, and that the results will not remain private (students would be denied admission at the door). Furthermore, since high school students are not allowed to legally consume alcohol, the threat of prosecution may face those who test positive. However, the argument exists that extracurricular activities like school dances are voluntary affairs, and that the student's interests to be free from search and seizure are diminished.

In the end, there is no clear answer as to whether or not all students can be forced to undergo breath tests before entering the school dance. On a whole, when viewed in light of existing precedent, the case law seems to be on the side of the school district.

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