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Judge strikes down most drug testing at Linn State

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 13, 2013 - A federal judge has ruled that mandatory drug testing for students at Linn State Technical Collegeis unconstitutional unless they are enrolled in certain programs where drug use could pose a safety hazard.

The 62-page ruling by U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey is the latest in a two-year legal battle between the college, which instituted the mandatory drug testing for all students, and students who say their constitutional rights have been violated.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri filed suit on behalf of several students in 2011, challenging the drug-testing program; an injunction put the testing on hold as the case moved up to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, then back to the district court.

On Friday, Laughrey ruled that only students in certain programs at the school -- aviation maintenance, electrical distribution systems, industrial electricity, power sports and CAT dealer service technician – are subject to the testing. The rest, she said may not be tested and should have a $50 testing fee refunded and any previous urine samples taken by the school destroyed.

Donald Claycomb, president of the college, told the Beacon he had not had a chance to fully digest the ruling but he was disappointed in its basic conclusions. He said the Linn State board would decide whether or not it would be appealed.

In a statement by the local ACLU chapter, executive director Jeffrey Mittman praised the ruling.

“Like most Americans,” he said, “Missourians are tired of the War on Drugs and policies that assume that everyone is guilty of illegal drug use. The court recognized that illusory safety concerns can be used ‘to mask unconstitutional purposes.’ ”

Tony Rothert, the chapter’s legal director, added:

“Forcing students to provide urine samples violates their constitutional rights. To make matters worse, students had to pay the college $50 each for the tests that violated their privacy.”

In her ruling, Laughrey disputed the college’s claim that all of its programs are in fields where students need to be drug-tested for their safety and for them to be prepared for requirements in their future jobs. She also noted that the testing did not respond to any need shown on the campus of the mid-Missouri public school.

Nanette Laughrey
Nanette Laughrey

“Over the course of Linn State’s fifty-year history,” Laughrey wrote, “there has never been an accident on campus that resulted in death or substantial bodily injury. There have been accidents that have required some medical attention, but there is no evidence that drug use caused or contributed to any accident in Linn State’s history.”

Further, she noted, “Linn State does not have any greater prevalence of drug use among its students than any other college” but it instituted a program “on the basis of a hypothetical or unsubstantiated safety interest.”

In fact, the ruling said, “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.”

Going through several other programs offered by Linn State – from auto body and mechanics to heavy equipment technology to heating, ventilation and air conditioning – Laughrey noted that in most cases, the school presented no evidence that drug testing is a safety issue.

Addressing the possibility raised by Linn State that students enrolled in one program might take courses in another where a danger from drugs is possible, Laughrey dismissed the concern out of hand.

“Pure speculation about a single, hypothetical sequence of events cannot suffice to justify suspicionless drug testing….” she wrote. “Furthermore, if the mere possibility of cross-enrollment was sufficient to justify mandatory, suspicionless drug testing, then seemingly every public university in the country could constitutionally adopt such a policy.”

Dale Singer Beacon staff

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.