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State Tech asks high court to consider drug testing

January 21, 2017 at 4:56 a.m. | Updated January 27, 2017 at 4:55 p.m.
This file photo shows Linn State Technical College, now named State Technical College of Missouri.

LINN - State Technical College wants the U.S. Supreme Court to have the final say on the constitutionality of making some students take drug tests.

On Dec. 20, the federal 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the State Tech policy, in place since 2011, was unconstitutional.

"It is certainly a case that is in the category of cases that the Supreme Court would consider," Kent Brown, State Tech's attorney, explained Friday. "There are very important issues that are involved, and they deal with a lot of things that are still open questions."

Brown thinks there is a possibility the U.S. Supreme Court will accept the school's appeal.

But Tony Rothert, the ACLU of Missouri's legal director, told the News Tribune on Friday: "It is difficult to imagine that the Supreme Court would be interested in reviewing a thorough decision from the Court of Appeals, to entertain State Technical College's argument that its students should be treated as second-class citizens with lesser constitutional protections than every other public college student in the country."

The drug-testing program began more than five years ago, when then-Linn State College President Don Claycomb convinced the regents the policy was needed to "provide a safe, healthy and productive environment for everyone who learns and works at the college."

To remain enrolled, students were required to complete a urine sample, which would be tested for 11 drugs.

If the results tested positive, the student would have to complete a drug-awareness course or attend counseling, provide a second urine sample 45 days later and submit to a random drug test at a later date.

But the ACLU sued on behalf of several students, arguing the policy wasn't needed at all.

U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey ruled the school couldn't require the tests for all students but could mandate the testing for students in five programs where drug use could pose a safety risk to others.

The St. Louis-based appeals court in December 2015 upheld the limited testing, but the full court's ruling last month overturned the 2015 decision.

Rothert said in a news release announcing last month's decision: "We shouldn't treat students seeking to better their lives through education with immediate suspicion.

"Under the Fourth Amendment, every person has the right to be free from an unreasonable search and seizure, including college students."

But, Brown told the News Tribune on Friday, some drug testing still is being allowed.

"It could have started last year and probably will start this fall - that's under consideration," he explained. "Things like aviation maintenance that are clearly safety-sensitive.

"One of the things in the opinion that we didn't agree with the 8th Circuit and with the trial court that we don't believe we need to demonstrate that all of our courses individually are safety-sensitive."

Brown said school officials said the "mix of the courses offered and the cross-enrollment of students justifies testing all of the student body."

He said the regents hope the federal high court will take the case then after hearing arguments sometime next year, "hold that the policy could be applied across the board to all incoming students, not just those enrolled in those five identified-as-dangerous programs."


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