When an 11-year-old viola student reported for orchestra practice at the start of the 2011-12 school year, she was blocked at the door by her principal.
The girl, a sixth-grader at Swift Middle School in Solanco School District, was told she was ineligible to participate in orchestra because she and her parents had not consented to random drug testing at the school.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit in state court Wednesday, challenging Solanco's drug policy on behalf of the student and her parents, Christopher and Mika McDougall of Peach Bottom.
The suit attempts to stop the school district from requiring students who participate in extracurricular activities, including athletics and academic competitions, to submit to suspicionless, random drug testing, according to a statement issued Wednesday by ACLU associate director Sara Mullen.
"My daughter has been prohibited from all school activities," Christopher McDougall said Wednesday. "She's been banned all year."
His daughter, who is identified only as "M.M." in the suit, has similarly been barred from chorus and athletics. A top math student, her invitation to join the school's MathCounts academic competition team has been withdrawn.
McDougall asked the Solanco school board to do away with the drug-testing policy at an Oct. 17 meeting.
He said then the policy puts the district in "a difficult legal position."
"I got one letter in return that basically said, 'We appreciate your concerns. However, we feel the policy is justified.' " he said Wednesday.
He has since met with district superintendent Martin Hudacs on the subject.
"We had a long discussion. It was amicable," McDougall said. "These are well-intentioned people. We just disagree on this one point.
"Everybody wants the same thing. We want healthy, safe kids. But we disagree on the method. We don't want children treated like criminals."
Hudacs did not return a call from a reporter. However, Keith Kaufman, director of community relations for the school district, responded on Hudacs' behalf.
Kaufman said the district has no comment on the suit.
"We are just now learning about it. Just now," he said.
"At this time, we have nothing to respond to. We're not aware of all the details yet."
The ACLU of Pennsylvania and Dechert LLP are representing the McDougall family in the suit.
McDougall said the ACLU has filed a request for an injunction for "emergency relief" for his daughter.
He hopes to see the matter settled quickly. He said similar cases have been resolved in a matter of days.
"The law on the subject is really clear," he said. "It's not like this is a fuzzy area. The Supreme Court was really clear. And every district that has been challenged on this law has lost."
The McDougalls have another daughter, currently in second grade, who isn't affected by the district's drug policy.
For M.M., this was the first time the policy was an issue.
"On the first day of school, she came home with this paper to sign," McDougall said.
"And I thought, no. We'll sign the section saying she will not take drugs or alcohol. Absolutely. But we will not sign the section for suspicionless drug testing."
The fallout of the dispute has been hard on the girl, he admitted.
"She's a very smart girl," McDougall said of his daughter. "It was very upsetting to her to be banned from orchestra and chorus. She's also an excellent athlete, but she's been banned from sports teams.
"She's upset about it. But she understands our reasons, and she's been very cooperative."
The ACLU argues the school's policy violates a 2003 Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling requiring schools to justify suspicionless drug testing programs with evidence of a widespread drug problem among students.
This is the third lawsuit the ACLU of Pennsylvania has filed in the past 13 months against school districts with what it is calling unconstitutional drug testing policies. The other two suits were filed against Delaware Valley School District in Pike County and Panther Valley School District in Carbon County.
"In the past year, judges have issued injunctions to stop similar policies in two other school districts. Unfortunately, the Solanco School District has not learned from other districts' mistakes," Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said in a statement.
"Not only are these policies a violation of students' right to privacy, numerous studies have shown they do not reduce student drug use," he said.
According to the complaint, the Solanco School District has provided no evidence of a drug problem among its students to justify its policy.