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Federal judge blocks most Linn State drug tests

Linn State Technical College’s 2011 drug-testing policy is unconstitutional, except for students in five specific programs, U.S. District Judge Nanette K. Laughrey ruled Friday.

“Forcing students to provide urine samples violates their constitutional rights,” Tony Rothert, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri, said in a Friday afternoon news release.

Linn State President Don Claycomb said Friday that school officials were studying the ruling.

“We have not had an opportunity to review the ruling in full, or to consult with our attorney, Kent Brown,” he said. “That will be the next step before deciding what to do.”

An appeal is possible, he said.

Linn State appealed an earlier ruling in the case, and the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the ACLU had not proved the testing was unconstitutional for all students.

In a 62-page order, Laughrey detailed the issues the federal courts have been considering since the ACLU sued the state-owned school after the policy was implemented in September 2011.

Much of the ruling involves a program-by-program analysis of safety issues and how they apply to each program.

Linn State’s Board of Regents approved the policy in June 2011, requiring all incoming students to take and pass drug tests before attending classes.

Board President John Klebba testified at a July 1 hearing: “It is something that (students) will see in the workforce, and we want them to be prepared for it.”

But, Laughrey wrote, “The Fourth Amendment protects the right of Americans to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. It is well-established that a urine drug test constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment.”

That search is considered “suspicionless” unless the officials can show a “special need” for it, either on an individual or a group basis.

Under Laughrey’s Friday order, only students in the Aviation Maintenance, Electrical Distribution Systems, Industrial Electricity, Power Sports and CAT Dealer Service Technician programs can be subjected to drug tests under the policy, because those programs met the 8th Circuit court’s ruling allowing testing to deter “drug use among students engaged in programs posing significant safety risks to others.”

Some other Linn State programs also have drug testing, but were not involved in the lawsuit or Laughrey’s findings. She said those included heavy equipment operations, off-campus internships and commercial driver’s licenses.

In her findings, Laughrey noted there in its 50-year history, Linn State has never had an accident on campus resulting in death or substantial bodily injury.

“There is no evidence that drug use caused or contributed to any accident in Linn State’s history,” she wrote, noting there’s no evidence showing Linn State has “any greater prevalence of drug use among its students than any other college.”

Laughrey found that Linn State’s regents didn’t cite safety as a reason for the policy.

“The six ‘Program Goals’ adopted by the Board of Regents do not even mention preventing accidents or injuries caused or contributed to by drug use, and instead focus on goals like improving retention and graduation rates,” she said.

Laughrey pointed to meeting minutes in which Claycomb cited parents’ desire for schools enforcing drug-free environments and the policy “alone could up the enrollment numbers.”

The judge said the college’s goals weren’t wrong, but didn’t justify overriding the constitutional protections.

She ordered Linn State to refund the $50 fee to students not in covered programs and to destroy or return an specimens collected.

Claycomb said Friday about 400 students were tested two years ago, before the ACLU filed its lawsuit — but that some of those were in programs where drug testing is allowed.

School officials will have to determine how many students, ultimately, are due refunds under Laughrey’s order.

Earlier coverage, posted at 2:33 p.m. Friday:

Linn State Technical College’s 2011 drug-testing policy is unconstitutional, except for students in five specific programs, U.S. District Judge Nanette K. Laughrey ruled Friday.

In a 62-page order, Laughrey detailed the issues the federal court’s been considering since the ACLU sued the state-owned school in September 2011.

Linn State’s Board of Regents approved the policy in June 2011, requiring all incoming students to take, and pass, drug tests before attending classes.

Board President John Klebba testified at a July 1 hearing: “It is something that (students) will see in the workforce, and we want them to be prepared for it.”

Under Laughrey’s order, only students in the Aviation Maintenance, Electrical Distribution Systems, Industrial Electricity, Power Sports, and CAT Dealer Service Technician programs can be subjected to drug tests.

She ordered Linn State to “refund the $50 fee (all other) students were assessed for the unconstitutional drug testing,” and to “ensure the destruction or return of any urine specimens previously collected from students who were not or have not since enrolled in the aforementioned programs.”

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