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« An Email Policy (or Police): A Debate Clouded by Many Factors | Main | Settlement reached in high school football hazing case »
Thursday
Sep082011

Please deposit urine here ... and attend classes there ...

According to a Sioux City Journal article, Linn State Technical College, a 2-year public college in Missouri, has a policy allowing the school to drug test all its students.  As the article noted, this policy might be the widest reaching mandatory drug-testing policy. 

I checked out the information on the College website.  The College justifies its drug testing program in pursuit of its mission.  Specifically, it states: “This program supports the LSTC mission to ‘prepare students for profitable employment and a life of learning,” by guiding students in the development of safe workplace habits.”  Thus, the College believes that it is preparing its students for the workplace, which in many instances also requires drug testing. 

So what happens when a student fails to participate?  The student is withdrawn from the school.  What happens when a student has a positive test?  The student is placed on probation, and the school requires an educational component – either an online program, which the student must pay for, or learning activities.  Then, the student is subject to a follow-up test.  Failing the second test leads to withdrawal.   

The Linn State Technical College drug testing policy is a Fourth Amendment issue.  In Skinner v. Railway Labor Executives’ Association, 489 U.S. 602 (1989), the U.S. Supreme Court expressed: “it is clear that the collection and testing of urine intrudes upon expectations of privacy that society has long recognized as reasonable …, and … these intrusions must be deemed searches under the Fourth Amendment” (Id. at 617).  Generally speaking, that informs us the policy is subject to the Fourth Amendment.  The next step is to determine the rule directing us on the parameters of a drug testing policy.  The Court in Skinner did.  The Court indicated that “[i]n limited circumstances, where the privacy interests implicated by the search are minimal, and where an important governmental interest furthered by the intrusion would be placed in jeopardy by a requirement of individualized suspicion, a search may be reasonable despite the absence of such suspicion” (Id. at 625).

Since Skinner, two U.S. Supreme Court cases (i.e., Veronia Sch. Dist. v. Acton, 515 U.S. 646 (1995) and Bd. of Educ. of Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Earls, 536 U.S. 822 (2002)) addressed students’ challenges of drug testing policies.  In both cases, the students were in high school and the policy only applied to students participating in competitive extracurricular activities such as athletic teams.  The Courts in both cases found the policies not in violation of the Fourth Amendment.  In Veronia, the policy instituted random drug testing of student athletes.  The Court articulated three factors to examine to determine the reasonableness of the search – (1) “the privacy interest upon which the search here at issue intrudes” (Id. at 654); “the character of the intrusion that is complained of” (Id. at 658); “the nature and immediacy of the governmental concern at issue here, and the efficacy of this means for meeting … the governmental concern at issue” (Id. at 660).  The Earls case followed the test outlined in Veronia to conclude that a school policy that subjected all students who participated in competitive extracurricular activities. 

The testing at Linn State Technical College involves all students who opt for an education at that institution – not just students who voluntarily participate in co-curricular activities such as intercollegiate athletics.  That type of policy has not been presented to us as a case controversy.  Since the events are very recent, it’s not clear whether anyone will challenge the policy based on the Fourth Amendment.  Further, it’s possible that the policy may violate a state privacy law. 

Right now, what is clear is that the policy seems to reach much further than the typical drug testing policy at U.S. colleges and universities.  

I doubt this policy publicity will go away, so stay tune for more discussions!

While we wait to hear more, let's hope that Linn State has some established administrative practices surrounding record-keeping as well as ensuring the limited use of the urine samples for its stated purposes. 

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Reader Comments (1)

Thank you Jeff for this post--what an interesting issue this policy presents! Much like you, I immediately thought of the Acton case when I read this. If I remember correctly, most of the Court's ruling hinged on the fact that by participating in athletics, a student by default agrees to a lower expectation of privacy. Considering the age of the students in this instance, and the fact that they are merely enrolled and not participating in athletics or school-sponsored organizations, I would have to imagine this policy will get struck down. Can't wait to read the update on this when it comes out!

September 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJoy Blanchard

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