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Judge considers Linn State drug-testing case

After hearing nearly five hours of testimony and closing arguments, U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey said Monday the lawsuit about Linn State Technical College’s drug testing policy is “a very interesting case, and I look forward to working on it.”

Laughrey added: “I hope to give the college some guidance this fall.”

But she didn’t promise to have a ruling before classes start late next month.

The veteran federal judge heard final arguments Monday in the nearly 2-year-old case challenging Linn State’s June 2011 decision to require drug tests of all incoming students.

“It is something I see as prevalent in the workforce,” John Klebba, president of Linn State’s Board of Regents, testified Monday afternoon. “It is something that (students) will see in the workforce, and we want them to be prepared for it.”

In November 2011, the ACLU for Eastern Missouri sued Linn State on behalf of several students who objected to the policy.

“I disagree that the trend is toward more drug-testing,” Anthony Rothert, the ACLU’s legal director, told the News Tribune after Monday’s hearing. “I actually think it’s toward less. But private employers aren’t bound by the (U.S. Constitution’s) Fourth Amendment — and I think that’s the problem.

“The college has forgotten that it’s a public institution.”

That amendment protects “the right of the people to be secure ... against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

Rothert noted he’s arguing the case as a class action on behalf of all Linn State students, that the school is “a government institution doing a suspicionless test. They need to prove some kind of special need, that makes the rules of the Fourth Amendment not apply.”

Kent Brown, the Jefferson City attorney who represents Linn State, said after Monday’s hearing that the school’s students “chose to go to a vocational-technical school. The vast majority of students there operate heavy equipment, work with dangerous chemicals or electricity in a way that can do great bodily harm not only to themselves, but to the public who might be walking by or driving by.”

Rothert told Laughrey during closing arguments that Linn State hadn’t proved a special need for drug-testing any student in any of the school’s 30 programs.

“At least half the programs, they didn’t even try to prove it,” he said in an interview, naming classes like as computer science, drafting and business systems, “where no one’s posing a risk to anyone.”

Linn State’s regents said two years ago they adopted the drug-testing policy in accordance with previous U.S. Supreme Court rulings that require technical and dangerous vocations to screen for drug use.

Richard Pemberton, Linn State’s associate dean for Student Affairs and a former Jefferson City High School principal, testified he wasn’t aware of student complaints about the drug-testing policy — other than those made by the half-dozen students the ACLU initially filed the lawsuit for.

Both sides believe Linn State is the first school in the nation to approve a drug-testing policy for all students.

Rothert said people enrolling college have an expectation of privacy and don’t expect drug testing.

“I think just as significant is that this policy has been going on for two years — and no one has joined Linn State, either, in trying to implement drug-testing for all students,” he said.

Brown noted the type of vocational-technical school that Lin State is. “That’s why students choose to go there, because our graduation and employment rates are very high,” he said, “because Linn State identifies and leads in preparing students to, actually, get profitable employment.”

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