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Court Voids Decision Invalidating Drug-Test Policy

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Washington--The U.S. Supreme Court last week overturned a federal appellate ruling that invalidated a drug-testing requirement for school-bus drivers, mechanics, and aides in the District of Columbia.

In a brief unsigned order, the Justices directed the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to reconsider its November 1987 decision in light of the High Court's rulings last month that upheld similar drug-testing policies for Customs Service and railway employees.

In those cases, the Court held that the government's interest in ensuring public safety outweighed workers' Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches. (See Education Week, March 29, 1989.)

District of Columbia school officials adopted a urinalysis requirement in 1984 in response to evidence of widespread drug use among transportation workers. Juanita Jones, a school-bus aide, challenged the rule in federal district court after she lost her job due to a positive test result for marijuana use.

The appeals court ruled in McKenzie v. Jones (Case No. 87-1706) that the school district could require workers to submit to urinalysis, but that it would have to use a test that could determine drug impairment while an employee was on the job. No such tests exist.

In papers filed with the High4Court, the district argued that the appellate ruling cast doubt on the constitutionality of all similar rules aimed at deterring employees from using illegal drugs.

In other action, the Court:

Affirmed, without comment, a federal district court's ruling that a Texas school board's procedure for placing items on its agenda does not violate the Voting Rights Act.

Under the rule, proposed agenda items must be backed by at least two board members. The old rule allowed individual members to request that items be placed on the agenda.

Lawyers for the citizens who filed the suit, Rojas v. Victoria Independent School District (No. 87-2118), claimed that the rule change was designed to dilute Mexican-American voter strength. The board has only one Mexican-American member.

Associate Justices Antonin Scalia and Byron H. White dissented from the Court's decision, saying they would have scheduled the case for argument.

Overturned a federal appeals court's ruling that officials in a Pennsylvania district violated a student's 14th Amendment right to "liberty" by failing to protect her from sexual abuse by her school's band director.

The Court's action in Smith v. Sowers (No. 88-1350) came less than a month after it dismissed identical charges against the officials in a suit by another student. (See Education Week, March 15, 1989.)--tm

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