In one of the enduring moments in the legal battle for student’s rights, Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas delivered the line “it can hardly be argued that students […] shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” His majority opinion in the case Tinker v. Des Moines set a landmark precedent regarding students’ rights when they are in school.
However, the rights Tinker affords to students are limited and do not necessarily extend to the constitutional rights adults command. The phrase in loco parentis is a legal term that effectively refers to the responsibility of an organization to serve as quasi-parents to minors when they are under their care; for example, during the school day. Often, it is used as a justification for disciplinary actions taken by administrators or teachers.
As a result, students relinquish many of their Constitutional rights while at school. Administrators reserve the right to search them and their property, even retaining the right of disciplining students for actions that occur completely unrelated to any aspect of the school environment. This is utterly absurd, and a destruction of the extremely flimsy expectation of privacy that students should be, but often are not, entitled to.
It is an unavoidable fact that illicit substances, especially alcohol, are present in high school culture. This is exacerbated by large social activities such as dances or football games. It is logical the administration should take steps to try to prevent this, but how far is too far?
Schools across the nation have enacted policies regarding student drinking, such as requiring them to pass a breathalyzer test before entrance is given to school dances and games. They are typically quick to point out that everybody is required to pass, preventing any accusations of discrimination.
Regardless of any attempts to avoid impropriety, the issue at hand is that schools should not be breathalyzing their students in any way. While it is undoubtedly beneficial to reduce student drinking, the school should have no bearing on what students choose to do on their own time away from campus.
Furthermore, it is a vast overreach by the school to attempt to dictate the terms of participation in activities.
The American Civil Liberties Union has filed complaints about student breathalyzers in the past. In a letter they filed with Minnesota school officials, they asserted that the schools were considering students “guilty until proven innocent, instead of innocent until proven guilty.” A presumption of this sort violates a fundamental aspect of the Constitution. The fourth Amendment protects against unlawful search and seizure; in this case, the ACLU argues, breathalyzing students violates this protection, particularly given that police officers often conduct the tests.
It is easy for the adminstration to blur the line between drinking away from school activities and drinking at these events. The latter is prohibited under the SR&R, and students take no issue with discipline for that offense.
Unfortunately, it is a situation where students possess little to no power to combat the mandatory testing. The only major recourse is to not go to the event, which ultimately defeats the entire purpose. Protests of this sort only have a symbolic significance, yet the cause is an important one.
That does not make mandatory breathalyzing acceptable, or something that should simply be taken as unavoidable. Instead, it is a violation of rights afforded to citizens of the United States.
The administration should remain uninvolved in student affairs past the gates, and implement the non-judgemental community which they so fondly promote.