Federal Court Signs Off On Agreement To Permanently Halt Random Teacher Drug Testing In West Virginia

August 21, 2009 12:00 am

Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States


CHARLESTON, WV - A federal court today signed off on a formal agreement to permanently block the proposed random, suspicionless drug testing of Kanawha County public school employees. The Court’s order approves an agreement between the Kanawha County Board of Education and the nation’s two largest teachers’ unions, represented in part by the American Civil Liberties Union, which had brought a legal challenge arguing that drug testing without cause violates public servants’ constitutional right to privacy.

"The school board’s reasoned decision to abandon their invasive and ineffective drug testing scheme does right by both teachers and taxpayers," said Adam Wolf, an attorney with the ACLU. "Further public resources should not be wasted in a futile attempt to enact a clearly unconstitutional policy."

Today’s consent decree, entered into by the West Virginia Education Association and American Federation of Teachers - represented by the ACLU, the WVEA and private counsel in West Virginia - and the Kanawha County Board of Education, came before Chief Judge Joseph R. Goodwin of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia.

The Court had previously halted the drug testing policy in an order issued January 8, 2009, which held that the constitutional right to privacy outweighs the government’s interest in drug testing virtually all public school employees without cause - particularly in light of the government’s inability to document a single instance where student safety had been impacted by employee drug use.

The order concluded, in part, by citing the words of former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall: "Precisely because the need for action against the drug scourge is manifest, the need for vigilance against unconstitutional excess is great. … [W]hen we allow fundamental freedoms to be sacrificed in the name of real or perceived emergency, we invariably come to regret it."

The proposed random drug testing policy was adopted by the Kanawha County School Board in October 2008 after months of contentious debate and had been 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 virtually all school employees.

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 court firmly rejected the contention that public school employees meet the criteria for random drug testing: "A train, nuclear reactor, or firearm in the hands of someone on drugs presents an actual concrete risk to numerous people - the same cannot be said for a teacher wielding a history textbook."

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 true 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.

Today’s court order may be found online at: www.aclu.org/drugpolicy/testing/40814lgl20090821.html

The Court’s January 8, 2009 ruling against the random drug testing policy is available at: www.aclu.org/drugpolicy/testing/38266lgl20090108.html

Portions of the ACLU’s and WVEA’s legal filing can be found at: www.aclu.org/drugpolicy/testing/38001lgl20081205.html and www.aclu.org/drugpolicy/testing/38002lgl20081205

Sign up to be the first to hear about how to take action.

Learn More About the Issues in This Press Release