Extracurricular Activities, Law and Policy

Extracurricular activities fall outside of a school’s academic curriculum. Participation by students is voluntary. Extracurricular activities are not a student right, but a privilege. Students interested in participating in extracurricular activities are subjected to minimum standards for qualification. Extracurricular activities range from the commonly known sports teams, such as football, basketball, track and field, field hockey, and soccer, to academic clubs, such as chess club, mathematics club, and pep club. Most sports teams are single gender, whereas academic clubs may be coeducational. This entry discusses related policy and litigation.

Board Policies

Whatever the extracurricular activity, school boards are allowed to establish policies regarding student behavior, academic standing, physical examinations, drug testing, and other requirements needed to ensure the safety and health of each participating student. Of course, board policies must be consistent with those of their state athletic associations, particularly with regard to eligibility based on age and academic standing, topics that have generated considerable controversy.

Educators must be aware of current board policies governing student participation in extracurricular activities within their districts. Noncompliance with board policies can render students ineligible to participate in extracurricular activities. Noncompliance/ violations can be in the form of not consenting to drug testing, substandard grades or grade point average, other disciplinary issues not necessarily related to extracurricular activities, and other infractions of school board policies. Notice of the noncompliance/ violations must be given to students so that they have the opportunity to present information identifying or clarifying the context and circumstances of their alleged actions. Palmer v. Merluzzi (1989) affirmed that students are due “some process” but require only oral or written notice of charges and an opportunity to present their side of the story.

Court Rulings

In recent years, litigation associated with the rights of students to participate in extracurricular activities focused on the issue of drug testing for participation and due process, since doing so imposes a condition on participants that does not apply to other students. Asummary discussion of some of the litigation follows.

The Supreme Court held that the suspicionless drug testing of student athletes in Vernonia School District 47J v. Acton (1995) was constitutional and did not violate a student’s Fourth or Fourteenth Amendment. In Board of Education of Independent School District No. 92 of Pottawatomie County v. Earls (2002), the Court largely applied the same test as in Acton in holding that a board’s policy for urinalysis testing for drugs in order to participate in any extracurricular activity is a reasonable means of preventing and deterring drug use among its students. The Court considered the difference between nonathletic and athletic extracurricular activities and determined the distinction unessential in using Acton to render its decision. The primary reason for the constitutionality of the school’s drug policy rests with the school’s custodial responsibility and authority.

In Board of Education v. Earls, the Court applied a three-part test to determine the constitutionality of the extracurricular policy of drug testing. The first part considers the right to privacy of student athletes. The Court has consistently ruled that due to the requirements of participation in sporting activities, given the communal dress and physical exams, the student athlete should have a lesser expectation of privacy. The second part evaluates the collection of the urinalysis sample. Again, the Court found the collection to be minimally intrusive, while providing safeguards that the sample is genuine. The final part considers the need for drug testing whether a specific drug problem has been identified. The Court reasoned that due to the responsibilities of school toward educating young people about the hazards of drug and alcohol use, an actual or perceived drug or alcohol problem is not necessarily needed to allow testing of student athletes.

The Court acknowledged that school officials need not wait for actual drug or alcohol problems to educate and prevent abuse. Part of the education of the public includes awareness of consequences when faced with decisions that may become life threatening. By conducting drug and alcohol urinalysis testing, school officials may reduce the probability of drug and alcohol abuse among what many consider the peer leaders in schools. Further, the Court has extended this to include nonathletic extracurricular activities, due to the prominence within the school of the student participants. The Court maintained that it is a reasonable means of preventing and deterring drug use among schoolchildren. The Court has consistently rendered decisions supporting the school district/school board policies for drug and alcohol prevention by students participating in extracurricular activities.

Although students do not lose their constitutional rights when entering schools, the courts have determined that students who wish to engage in the privilege of participating in extracurricular activities can be subjected to a greater amount of control than their peers or adults in the general public. Insofar as students who choose to participate in extracurricular activities do so voluntarily, they must subject themselves to intrusions on their privacy as a condition of participation in privileged activities.

Michael J. Jernigan

See also Board of Education of Independent School District No. 92 of Pottawatomie County v. Earls; Fourteenth Amendment; Privacy Rights of Students; Vernonia School District 47J v. Acton

Further Readings

  • Russo, C. J. (2006). Reutter’s: The law of public education (6th ed.). New York: Foundation Press. 

Legal Citations