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Breathalyzing students infringes on civil liberties


It is no secret to the Palo Alto High School administration that many students often consume alcohol before attending home football games. Before the first football game of the season, the Associated Student Body (ASB) posted a notice stating that students entering the football game could be subject to Breathalyzer tests. However, this statement was met with a mass of confused students trying to find out if there was really going to be any breathalyzing.

Under the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, all people, including students who attend public school, are protected against unreasonable search and seizure. Therefore, any type of search conducted by the school violates the Fourth Amendment.

Having said that, what many students ignore is that the school is responsible for the safety and well being of all attendees. If an individual is injured because he or she drunk at a school football game, the school is liable for them.

For this reason, all public schools, including Paly,  are not held to the “probable cause” standard law enforcement officers must meet in order to conduct searches. As long as school officials have “reasonable suspicion” that a students are under the influence of drugs or alcohol at school or a school sponsored event, they can be subject to testing.

However, what constitutes “reasonable suspicion, the legal standard of proof for arrests and search warrants?” Some examples include being noticeably impaired, alcohol on one’s breath or noticeable impairment combined with information received from a credible source about a student’s consumption of drugs or alcohol.

Football games naturally excite attendees, making spectators act rowdily and oftentimes wildly. For this reason, a student’s behavior alone, does not justify testing. There must be other indicators that allow for the conclusion to be made that a student is under the influence.

If a student attends a school football game and is noticeably impaired, it is the school’s right to test that student and take disciplinary action.

However, in certain situations, Paly did not act in accordance with the principal of reasonable suspicion. At the first home game of the season, one student who had not consumed any alcohol before entering the stadium was pulled aside and tested. This leads one to question the legal grounds on which students were subjected to testing. Paly and all public high schools are not allowed to be discriminatory in their process when breathalyzing their student body. Many students complained that they felt singled out because of their poor track records with Paly’s administration.

A student who is breathalyzed at the gate before entering the stadium has different rights from a student who is breathalyzed inside the gates. The Fourth Amendment protects everyone, even public school students at a football game, from “suspicionless” searches. A “suspicionless” search, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), is defined as “a search conducted without any reason to suspect evidence of a crime [under age drinking].” With that being said, breathalyzing all students before they entered the stadium would be considered a “suspicionless” search.

However, students participating in extracurriculars offered by the school, such as sports or clubs, forgo this right, allowing them to be randomly tested by the school. This means that the actual players on the football team could legally be tested, but not the spectators.

It is important for students and minors to know their rights. Although the school is looking out for the best interests of its student body, the administration has demonstrated a tendency to breathalyze without reasonable suspicion of intoxication, violating the Fourth Amendment and the basic rights of Paly students.

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