A federal appeals court has vacated a preliminary injunction that stopped mandatory drug testing of students at Linn State Technical College.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit issued the unanimous ruling in Barrett v. Claycomb on January 29. It overturned an injunction issued by Judge Nanette Laughrey of the Western District of Missouri.
Linn State is 1,150 to 1200 student, two-year school in Linn, Mo. that offers mechanical, electrical, civil, and computer programs.
The school rolled out mandatory testing in the September 2011. It announced that it would use drug testing to help the school maintain a safe environment and that it did not plan to release information to law enforcement.
Later that month, Michael Barrett IV and other students filed suit against the program. They asked the court to declare that the policy was unconstitutional on its face.
Laughrey issued a temporary restraining order right away and certified the class a few days before granting the injunction in November 2011.
President Donald Claycomb appealed on behalf of the school.
Senior Judge C. Arlen Beam wrote the Eighth Circuit opinion, joined by judges James Loken and Roger Wollman.
Beam relied on two 1989 U.S. Supreme Court cases that allowed government drug testing of certain employees when public safety was an issue. In Skinner v. Ry. Labor Executives’ Association, the court allowed testing of certain railroad employees, while in Nat’l Treasury Emps. Union v. Von Raab, it authorized testing of Customs officials engaged in drug interdiction.
“With instruction from Skinner and Von Raab, we conclude the public has a valid interest in deterring drug use among students engaged in programs posing significant safety risks to others. Indeed, Linn State offers several programs and areas of study, many of which require students to work with potentially dangerous heavy equipment, machines, chemicals, and electricity,” Beam wrote.
Beam determined that the school’s intrusion on student’s privacy is minimal because the testing is not random, students are given notice, it does not reveal any medical conditions and law enforcement is not informed.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which represents the plaintiffs, will ask the district court to issue a narrower injunction preventing Linn State from testing every student as a condition of admission, said Anthony Rothert, the legal director of ACLU of Eastern in an e-mail.
Although the ACLU disagrees with some parts of the court’s opinion, it’s “pleased that the Eighth Circuit acknowledged that the school’s drug-testing policy may have unconstitutional applications,” Rothert said.
Jason Williamson, of the ACLU of New York, argued for the plaintiffs.
The school’s attorney, Kent Brown, founder of the Missouri Law Center in Jefferson City, Mo., said, “From a legal standpoint, the most important thing in the opinion is the finding that a specialized technical college like Linn State has a special need which recognizes the need and ability of the college to protect its students with the more specialized attention that’s necessary in the high risk environment that those students train and work in.”
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