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Feds May Have to Curb Job Corps Drug Tests

WASHINGTON (CN) - The D.C. Circuit revived a challenge against the U.S. Forest Service's policy of performing random drug tests on all employees who work for a program that trains at-risk youth.

Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers prepare low-income teens for jobs involving the conservation, development and management of public natural resources and recreational areas. The Forest Service administers it with a zero-tolerance drug policy.

A federal judge had granted summary judgment to the Department of Agriculture and the Forest Service, which argued that Forest Service Job Corps employees "work with at-risk youth in residential settings" that are "often quite remote."

But the D.C. Circuit voted 2-1 last week to reverse

"We conclude that the secretary [of Agriculture] has failed to demonstrate 'special needs' rendering the Fourth Amendment requirement of individualized suspicion impractical to the context of Job Corps employment," Judge Judith Rogers wrote for a majority of the three-member panel.

The decision notes that "the secretary offers no explanation of how these general program features and loosely ascribed staff responsibilities serve to undermine the reasonable expectations of privacy held by Job Corps employees not previously subject to random drug testing."

"Furthermore, this characterization consists of contested facts, for the Union proffered evidence not only that there was no staff drug problem necessitating random testing, but also that different job categories at the Job Corps Centers have different levels of responsibility, or none, for maintaining the Zero Tolerance Policy, ensuring student safety, and driving students in emergency and other situates," Rogers added.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh dissented, however, saying that the Fourth Amendment permits a narrowly targeted drug-testing program.

"At these specialized residential schools, the potential for drug problems is obvious," Kavanaugh wrote. "After all, any residential school or camp with young people poses a risk of mischief ranging from the innocuous to the extremely dangerous."

The Forest Service Job Corps program offers vocational training and other activities in remote areas to students between 16 and 24-years-old. The students are not allowed to keep cars, and are subjected to suspicion-based drug testing. Employees of the program must undergo a drug test during the screening process of their hiring, but afterward are only required to monitor each other to ensure proper workplace behavior. They are subject to reinvestigation every 15 years.

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