ACLU objects to nicotine’s addition on school drug test list
FAIRBURY, Neb. — A southeast Nebraska school district’s decision to add nicotine to random drug tests given to students involved in extracurricular activities has drawn criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska.
A letter from ACLU legal director Amy Miller to the Fairbury Public Schools district said that because tobacco possession is a misdemeanor that doesn’t carry the possibility of jail time, it shouldn’t warrant a urine test.
Miller also said the district policies don’t include adequate privacy safeguards, an appeals process or a way to make sure tests weren’t found positive for prescribed medications.
The Lincoln Journal Star reported that the district school board made the change last week.
“Vaping and smoking in our view is reaching epidemic proportions,” Superintendent Stephen Grizzle said. “It’s just a way we can deter kids from potentially being addicted to nicotine.” The Centers for Disease Control has estimated that more than 3 million high school students use vaping products.
Smoking and using vaping products are against district policies, so it made sense to include nicotine in the tests, Grizzle said.
It’s unclear whether the ACLU is contemplating any legal action against the district. Miller didn’t immediately return a message Wednesday from the Associated Press.
District lawyers vetted the policy addition, Grizzle said, so he’s comfortable with it.
The district sits about 50 miles southwest of Lincoln and is among several in Nebraska that require random drug testing. About 60% of its junior-senior high school students participate in after-school activities, Grizzle said.
The nicotine test numbers are set at a level high enough to eliminate students who may have inhaled secondhand smoke, said Chris Franz, one of the owners of Sport Safe Testing Service, the company that handles the district tests.
About a dozen of the 100 or so districts that contract with Sport Safe included nicotine tests before vaping became so prevalent, Franz said, and now others are considering adding it.
Before the addition of nicotine to the Fairbury tests, Grizzle said, a handful of students each year have had tests come back positive for a forbidden substance. Consequences depend on the number of offenses, beginning with being barred from participation for 10 days.
Grizzle said he expected the number of students who test positive to increase once nicotine is included and then go down after enforcement kicks in.