College's Student Drug Testing Policy Tossed
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (CN) - A Missouri college's mandatory drug testing of all incoming freshman and students returning after an absence of six months or more is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled.
Linn State Technical College instituted the mandatory and suspicionless drug testing program in 2011.
Under the policy, all incoming freshmen or students who have been away from the college for more than six months were required to submit a urine sample for drug testing. A student who initially tests positive was given 45 days to be retested. If the retest came back positive, the student could still be enrolled on disciplinary probation and could be subject to further drug screenings and possible withdrawal from the college.
Linn State's primary reason for the policy was preparing students from employment fields where drug testing may be required. The school's Board of Regents outlined six goals of the drug testing program including helping students make healthier choices, supporting drug free students, improving the learning environment, decreasing the number of students place on academic probation, improving the school's retention rate and graduation rate.
The American Civil Liberties Union sued Linn State on behalf of six students, claiming the testing violated their constitutional rights.
In deciding the case, U.S. District Judge Nanette K. Laughrey noted that it is well-established that the Fourth Amendment classifies a urine drug test as a search. The question then became whether Linn State's policy withstood scrutiny under one of the Fourth Amendment's exceptions when it comes to suspicionless drug testing.
Laughrey cited previous case precedent which posed three implications: first, the activities by students must pose such a threat that even a momentary lapse could produce disastrous consequences; second, the safety risks must be of an unusual or unique degree; and third, the risk must be to other students and not just the individual performing the task.
"The risk of using illusory safety concerns to mask unconstitutional purposes is
apparent in this case, as the evidence shows that the adoption of Linn State's drug-testing policy was motivated predominantly by considerations other than the safety interest ultimately relied upon by defendants in response to this litigation," Laughrey wrote in her ruling Friday. "The six 'Program Goals' adopted by the Board of Regents do not even mention preventing accidents or injuries caused or contributed to by drug use, and instead focus on goals like improving retention and graduation rates. ... Likewise, the minutes from an advisory committee meeting show that Dr. Claycomb [President of Linn State], in discussing the proposed drug testing policy, told the committee 'that parents want their kids to attend a school that enforces a drug free environment,' and that, '[t]his alone could up the enrollment numbers ... There is no indication in these minutes that any concern for reducing or preventing drug-related accidents was also discussed."
Linn State, a public 2-year college located in Linn, Mo., offers 28 academic programs to for between 1,100 and 1,200 students. Linn State's attorney, Kent Brown, told the Associated Press that the college would appeal the ruling.