ACLU files suit over Missouri college's drug testing



Posted on September 14, 2011 at 7:59 PM

Updated Wednesday, Sep 14 at 8:01 PM

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- A federal judge placed a temporary block Wednesday night on a comprehensive new drug-testing program for students at a Missouri college after the American Civil Liberties Union went to court challenging the tests' constitutionality.

The ACLU of Eastern Missouri filed suit earlier Wednesday on behalf of six students at Linn State Technical College, seeking an injunction to end what it called the "suspicionless" screenings of all first-year students and some returning students for drugs including cocaine, methamphetamines and oxycodone.

Linn State implemented the program this fall, saying it was necessary to ensure student safety at a school where the coursework includes aircraft maintenance, heavy engine repair, nuclear technology and other dangerous tasks. The two-year college has 1,200 students and campuses in the mid-Missouri towns of Linn, Jefferson City and Mexico.

Kent Brown, an attorney for Linn State, told The Associated Press in an email Wednesday night that following a conference with lawyers for both sides, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order staying further implementation of the drug tests until an evidentiary hearing can be scheduled.

Brown said the school learned from The AP that the ACLU had chosen to file suit "rather than respond to the College's attempts to involve them in the design and administration of a responsible drug screening program that would protect both students and their rights."

Brown also said none of the students named as plaintiffs had objected to the tests or sought to be excluded from it.

Besides the injunction, the ACLU's lawsuit asks the college to return $50 to the accounts of students, money the school charges for the testing program.

Tony Rothert, an attorney with the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, said that "suspicionless drug testing violates the Fourth Amendment," which protects against unlawful searches and seizures. "This goes beyond what has been permitted before."

Rothert cited cases where the U.S. Supreme Court allowed drug testing in schools, such as for students involved in extracurricular activities, "but nothing remotely like what's happening here. We're not aware of any high school that has this sort of drug testing, much less a college."

Brown, in an interview last week, said the scope and breadth of the program is unique, and "there aren't many colleges as unique as ours."

The testing program requires all first-year students to comply, along with returning students who took a semester or two off and are seeking a degree or academic certificate. Physical therapy students enrolled in cooperative programs between Linn State and two community colleges also must be drug-tested.

New and prospective students were advised about the testing program in the spring and during fall orientation.

The lawsuit claims Linn State has never had a history of students with drug problems. It said the college "can demonstrate no legitimate special need for drug testing its students that is sufficient to outweigh the students' individual privacy expectations against the state."

The tests screen for 11 drugs, including methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana. Students who test positive can remain in school if they have a clean test 45 days later. They also must complete an online drug-prevention course or are assigned to other, unspecified "appropriate activities," according to the school's written policy. They will remain on probation for the remainder of the semester and will face an unannounced follow-up test.