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Mon, 9 May 1994

By Jim Doyle San Francisco Chronicle

SAN FRANCISCO - The U.S. Court of Appeals struck down as unconstitutional a mandatory drug-screening program in rural Oregon for elementary and'high school athletes.

It is the latest court ruling on the legality of requiring student athletes to submit to "random" drug tests, which are conducted without suspicion that those tested use drugs.

A three-judge panel held unanimously on Thursday that the Veronica School District's testing program violated students' rights to be free from "unreasonable searches" under both the state and federal constitutions.

Federal and state courts have issued conflicting rulings on drug tests for student athletes.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court decided - without explanation - not to review a Colorado Supreme Court ruling that the University of Colorado's drug testing program is unconstitutional.

But in November, the Califorrnia Supreme Court upheld the National Collegiate Athletic Association's mandatory drug testing of athletes who play in post-season championship games. The NCAA's interest in drug-free competition outweighs students' privacy rights, the court held.

In 1988, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago upheld the mandatory drug testing of high school athletes in Tippecanoe County, Indiana.

Because of the spotty rulings, legal scholars expect the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the issue of student drug testing.

The Oregon case arose in 1989 when the Veronica School District instituted a policy that all boys and girls who take part in interscholastic athletics must submit urine samples for drug testing. Veronica is a small logging town about one hour from Portland.

School officials said they began the program to combat an increase in student drug use, a decline of student discipline and evidence that a student suffered a sports injury because of his use of marijuana.

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