Judge extends order halting campus drug tests
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
By JIM SALTER
ST. LOUIS (AP) — A Missouri college’s comprehensive drug-testing plan for students will stay on hold after a federal judge extended a temporary restraining order.
Linn State Technical College’s program calls for screening all first-year students and some returning students for cocaine, methamphetamines, oxycodone and eight other drugs. The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit last month challenging the constitutionality of the drug testing.
U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey in Jefferson City granted a temporary restraining order in September, and issued a ruling Tuesday that extends the restraining order through Nov. 8.
Kent Brown, an attorney for Linn Tech, did not return messages seeking comment.
Laughrey did not issue a written ruling but while speaking in court expressed doubt that the drug policy would pass constitutional muster, said Jason Williamson, an attorney for the ACLU. He said the extension was aimed at allowing Linn State time to decide how to move forward with legal proceedings.
“She had some pretty clear things to say about the problems with Linn State’s proposed program,” Williamson said. “I think they’d have to put on some extraordinary additional evidence to change her mind.”
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of six students at Linn Tech, a two-year college with campuses in the mid-Missouri towns of Jefferson City, Linn and Mexico. The suit claims the program violates students’ Fourth Amendment rights against unlawful searches and seizures.
The college sought to begin the drug testing this fall, saying it was necessary to ensure student safety at a school where the coursework includes programs like aircraft maintenance, heavy engine repair, nuclear technology and other dangerous tasks.
Brown has said the college sought a “responsible drug screening program that would protect both students and their rights.”
In addition to the injunction, the ACLU suit asks the college to return $50 to the accounts of students, money the school charges for the testing program.
The ACLU has said it was unaware of any college or university in the U.S. with a similar drug testing program. Brown earlier acknowledged that the scope and breadth of the program is unique, but “there aren’t many colleges as unique as ours.”
Under the program, students who test positive for drugs could remain in school if they have a clean test 45 days later. They also must complete an online drug-prevention course or would be assigned to other, unspecified “appropriate activities,” according to the school’s written policy. They would remain on probation for the remainder of the semester and would face an unannounced follow-up test.