Teacher Drug-Testing Policy Struck Down

By Mark Walsh — February 24, 2011 1 min read
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A Tennessee school district’s program of random drug testing of its teachers was constitutionally flawed, a federal district court has ruled.

The Smith County school district enacted a drug-testing policy for school employees in 2004, after two incidents in which teachers were charged with having drug paraphernalia in their homes. The policy provided for urinalysis drug testing during hiring and in cases based on reasonable suspicion of illegal drug use. It was amended in 2007 to establish random testing of at least 10 percent of employees each year.

The policy was challenged by several teachers and the Smith County Education Association as an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment. U.S. District Judge Todd J. Campbell of Cookeville, Tenn., held a trial over the policy.

In a Feb. 14. decision, he struck down the Smith County policy, but he said he was not ruling that random drug testing of teachers was by itself unconstitutional.

“Having carefully considered the expert testimony and all the evidence introduced at trial, the court finds that random drug testing clearly serves as a deterrent to illegal drug use,” Judge Campbell said. “However, the 2007 Policy ... lacks clarity and does not give teachers reasonable and adequate notice of what is being tested. The policy is also implemented in such a way that it unreasonably intrudes on the privacy of teachers.”

The judge noted that in a 1998 case, Knox County Education Association v. Knox County Board of Education, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in Cincinnati, upheld a drug-testing program for teachers. But the program in that case did not include random testing. (Tennessee is part of the 6th Circuit.)

The judge said the Smith County school board’s policies have not provided adequate notice to school employees of what drugs will be tested for in the program, and language that “any detectable amount” of illegal drugs would violate the policy was problematic. He also said that the district’s procedures for collecting urine samples raised constitutional issues.

Judge Campbell added that if the district “cured” its implementation issues, the random-testing policy would likely be in compliance with the Fourth Amendment.

(Hat Tip to Legal Clips.)

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.