ACLU Brings Legal Challenge to Planned Random Drug Testing of West Virginia Public School Employees
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CHARLESTON, WV – The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a legal challenge that seeks to halt the proposed random, suspicionless drug testing of nearly all Kanawha County public school employees. Partnering with the West Virginia Education Association (WVEA), the ACLU brief argues that in addition to being ineffective and costly, drug testing without cause violates public servants’ constitutional right to privacy and should be blocked by the court.
“The proposed random drug testing of public school employees is an affront to our fundamental rights and a senseless waste of scarce taxpayer dollars that will not increase student safety,” said Adam Wolf, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. “Public servants should not be required to surrender their constitutional rights as a condition of serving their community.”
The proposed random drug testing policy was adopted by the Kanawha County School Board in October after months of contentious debate and is set to take effect January 1, 2009. Specifically, the Board acted to significantly and inaccurately expand the definition of “safety-sensitive” employees in an effort to allow for the random drug testing of these positions, according to the ACLU.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the government may only conduct suspicionless drug tests of employees in “safety-sensitive” job roles, such as air traffic controllers or nuclear power plant operators, whose job functions, if done improperly, would cause specific and potentially catastrophic threats to the public safety.
The privacy protections under West Virginia law prohibit the blanket, random drug testing of virtually all public education employees, as proposed by the Kanawha County School Board, according to the ACLU.
In addition to violating public employees’ constitutional right to privacy, random drug testing programs have been found demonstrably ineffective by the National Academy of Sciences, among others, producing a false sense of security that distracts from actual safety threats.
Random drug testing may also reveal extremely sensitive personal information, such as medical conditions, prescription drug use or pregnancy, and can produce an unacceptably high rate of false-positives, resulting in suspicion cast on entirely innocent educators.
“West Virginia’s current statute already provides the opportunity for testing any employee suspected of drug use,” said WVEA President Dale Lee, who, along with the organization, is a named petitioner in the lawsuit. “The policy passed by the Kanawha County School Board is both unnecessary and costly. While employees do not fear drug testing, they are concerned about the loss of privacy and believe there are many larger, more pressing issues that the County needs to address and allocate resources toward.”
Critics of the planned drug testing program also point out that it will teach a perverse civics lesson to West Virginia’s students: that the democratic and constitutional values taught in the classroom are meaningless in the real world.
“Students should be taught to cherish and uphold our constitutional rights, including the fundamental right of personal privacy,” said Terri Baur, Legal Director of the ACLU of West Virginia. “Rather than squander precious resources on baseless dragnet searches of innocent educators’ bodily fluid, we should allocate funding toward comprehensive, fact-based education about the dangers of drug and alcohol misuse and counseling to students in need. That is the best way both to protect students now and to provide them the tools to protect themselves down the road.”
The ACLU and WVEA legal challenge, filed in the Circuit Court of Kanawha County, West Virginia, seeks an injunction barring the proposed random drug testing policy from going forward, as well as a ruling that declares the plan unconstitutional.
Portions of the group’s legal filing can be found at: www.aclu.org/drugpolicy/testing/38001lgl20081205.html and www.aclu.org/drugpolicy/testing/38002lgl20081205.html
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