WOMAN TURNS CASE INTO CAREER
The small-town girl whose challenge to mandatory drug testing in schools went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1998 is now an Ivy League graduate and a political activist working with American Indians.
Lindsay Earls was a 16-year-old sophomore at Tecumseh High School when the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on her behalf against Tecumseh Public Schools as a means of challenging drug- testing policies in schools nationwide.
Show airs tonight Earls' story will be featured on "ACLU Freedom Files," a 10-part television series that addresses civil rights issues and stars ACLU clients, the attorneys who defend them and well-known actors, activists and comedians.
The show airs at 8 p.m. today on DirectTV's channel 374 and Dish Network station 9410. Episodes may be purchased on the Internet at aclu.tv.
At age 23, she's a recent graduate of Dartmouth University and is working for INDS List, a Tulsa-based organization training American Indians for political office. She plans to attend law school.
"I'm really happy with way things in my life are shaping up," Earls said this week. "Even though we lost the case, I gained loads of personal strength from the experience that no one will ever be able to take away."
Earls was in college when her lawyer, Graham Boyd, telephoned on July 27, 2002, to deliver the news that they had lost in the nation's highest court.
"I laid on my dorm room floor and cried for about 20 minutes and then I called my parents to tell them," Earls said. "I thought I was prepared for the worst, but no one ever really expects to lose."
The justices' 5-4 decision allowed schools to test for drugs without proof of an epidemic drug problem, and expanded a previous court decision that allowed only student athletes to be randomly tested. The high court determined that giving schools an opportunity to rid their campuses of drugs outweighs privacy rights.
Disappointment in the outcome still lingers, she said.
"It hurts, but even though I didn't win, other people can find value in my story," Earls said. "I lost, but at least I tried to do something about an issue I felt strongly against. I hope it gives other people the courage to do the same."
No easy decision When required to take a drug test to perform in the Tecumseh choir, Earls began to question the legality of testing students school officials had no reason to suspect of drug use. In her search for an answer, she called the ACLU.
Her father, David Earls, a third-generation Tecumseh High School graduate, said filing the lawsuit was not an easy decision.
Neither he nor his wife, Lori, had ever been involved in a lawsuit, and both had grown up in the city of about 10,000 people. Suing the school district felt like taking a family member to court or "slapping your kinfolk in the face in front of everyone," David Earls said.
The decision ultimately was left up to their daughter.
"The lawsuit was part of our daily lives for four years," David Earls said. "There were not many times when I had a private moment that I didn't think about it."
Bombarded by the media David Earls said his family was bombarded by national and local media. People wrote hurtful letters to the local newspapers, denouncing the ACLU and the Earlses. Some even speculated that Lindsay must have "something to hide," he said.
"Backlash is an understatement," David Earls said. "It was unreal. It seemed like somebody was throwing a cheap shot every day."
He said the family, which also includes two other daughters, Lacey Earls, now 20, and Casey Earls, now 15, stood together on the issue. Lacey Earls was even added to the lawsuit when her older sister graduated from high school to keep the issue current for the courts.
Before graduating from high school, Lindsay Earls had offers to attend two Ivy League colleges and the University of Oklahoma.
David Earls said some people in Tecumseh believe her education was bankrolled by the ACLU, but his checkbook proves otherwise. He said the family was never paid by the ACLU, although his daughter has benefited from the connections and knowledge she's gained from being in ACLU circles.
School officials say extracurricular activities of their students have not declined since the drug policy was re-implemented in 2002. The policy requires all students involved in extracurricular activities to be tested annually. Random tests also are given.
David Earls said he has no regrets over the lawsuit and would do it again, even knowing its outcome.
"I am angry for parents and kids subjected to it ( mandatory drug testing )," David Earls said. "As a parent, I had something taken from me that I felt was a God-given right. I should be making the decision for my kids, not them."
Lindsay Earls said she's confident that one day the ruling will be overturned.
2005 The Oklahoma Publishing Co.