Court Finds Drug Testing of High School Students Not Racially Motivated

April 11, 2017

In L.P. v. Marion Catholic High School, the Seventh Circuit considered a discrimination claim filed under Section 1983 by students at Marion Catholic High School.  The seven high school student-plaintiffs, six African-American and one white, alleged that their school was conducting improper random drug tests, in violation of the Constitution and federal statutes.  Although Marian Catholic is run by the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, the school received over $300,000 in federal grants between 2008-2010 to run the drug-testing program.  The program involved taking a hair sample from each student and sending the samples to Omega Laboratories; each student at Marian Catholic was tested under the program at least once per school year.  In several instances, the student plaintiffs claimed to have been either victimized by false positives, poor scientific techniques, or by unreasonably aggressive tactics by the guidance counselor entrusted by the school to administer the program.  Nevertheless, on March 29, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of the case, holding that the plaintiffs had not provided any evidence of racial discrimination.

The Court noted that even if Omega Laboratories was guilty of poor scientific techniques in its testing, that was a far cry from alleging that the school was systematically disadvantaging some sample providers on the basis of race.  While the plaintiffs had alleging several instances of “conflicting test results,” the Court explained that the school was not obligated to always credit a negative test result nor had the plaintiffs shown that the school’s guidance counselor was investigating or deciding particular cases on the basis of a student’s race.   While acknowledging that drug-testing programs are sensitive and that errors can creep into test results, the Court stressed that “errors alone do not violate the laws against racial discrimination, without some showing that distinctions (usually intentional, but sometimes based on disproportionate impact) based on race explain what is going on.”

LP v. Marion Catholic High School

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