ACLU files suit over Mo. college’s drug testing

The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit Wednesday to halt “suspicionless” drug testing at a Missouri college, saying the tests violate the constitutional rights of students.

The lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Eastern Missouri in U.S. District Court in Jefferson City does not seek financial damages but asks for an injunction to end drug testing at Linn State Technical College. It also asks that the college return $50 to the accounts of students, money the school charges for the testing program.

The college instituted the widespread program this school year, saying it was necessary to ensure student safety at a campus where the coursework includes aircraft maintenance, heavy engine repair, nuclear technology and other dangerous tasks.

“Suspicionless drug testing violates the Fourth Amendment,” which protects against unlawful searches and seizures, ACLU attorney Tony Rothert said. “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.”

Kent Brown, attorney for Linn State, did not return a message seeking comment. He told The Associated Press last week that the scope and breadth of the program is unique, and “there aren’t many colleges as unique as ours.”

Linn State is a two-year college with 1,200 students. It has campuses in the mid-Missouri towns of Linn, Jefferson City and Mexico.

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.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of six students of the college, 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.

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

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