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School to Randomly Test Kids' Hair for Alcohol

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By Aditi Mukherji, JD on August 07, 2013 8:07 AM

School is full of tests -- multiple choice tests, English tests, AP tests and so on. Well, at one school, you can now add alcohol tests to the list.

A Catholic high school in a Chicago suburb will begin randomly testing all students for alcohol consumption starting this fall by analyzing hair samples, officials said.

But is the new alcohol policy legal?

Testing Procedures

St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights, Illinois, has administered drugs tests to all of its 1,000 students at the beginning of the school year since 2007, according to the Chicago Tribune. The school then tests a random group of 15 students each week school is in session.

The testing, including the alcohol screens that will be added in October, is conducted by an outside company using students' hair samples.

The results will indicate approximately how much alcohol the student has consumed in the past 90 days, although minimum levels of alcohol -- such as that from Communion wine -- won't show up.

Public v. Private

In the public school realm, the U.S. Supreme Court has articulated three ways in which random drug testing does not violate students' Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

But private schools, like the Catholic school in question, aren't bound by the same rules.

By contrast, a private school is constitutionally free to engage in whatever level of intrusion it wants into the lives of students, as long as the parents tolerate it. Unlike public schools, private schools can randomly test tufts of students' hair to their heart's content.

When parents decide to enroll their children at St. Viator, they agree to abide by the school's drug and alcohol policy, a binding agreement that gives parental consent for the drug (and now alcohol) testing.

In addition, because St. Viator is a private school, it can implement its alcohol policy without having to discuss it at a public meeting or with members of an elected school board.

At the end of the day, it's perfectly alright for schools like St. Viator to take samples of students' hair and test them for Mike's Hard Lemonade. The company behind the test tells the Tribune it's in discussions with another Chicago-area school district as well.

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