Unconstitutional Teacher Drug Testing Policy Brought To Halt In Baton Rouge

Affiliate: ACLU of Louisiana
May 29, 2009 12:00 am

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BATON ROUGE, LA – A consent decree was filed today in a lawsuit brought by the East Baton Rouge Federation of Teachers and the American Civil Liberties Union challenging the unconstitutional drug testing of teachers without reasonable suspicion. The decree, which was signed by a federal court, the Federation of Teachers, and the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, brings an end to a policy that subjected any teacher who suffers an injury on the job to a drug test absent any suspicion of drug use.

“The Constitution rightly requires that such invasive searches be based on reasonable suspicion,” said Adam Wolf, an attorney with the ACLU. “Public servants, like all of us, cannot be made to prove their innocence when there is no evidence that they have done anything wrong.”

Through a urine analysis, a drug test can reveal teachers’ most sensitive medical information, such as whether they have certain diseases, whether they take prescription medication, and whether they are pregnant. Initial drug tests also have an unacceptably high rate of false positives, which can be triggered by a wide array of common products and over-the-counter drugs, resulting in an indelible stigma cast on entirely innocent teachers.

The consent decree, before the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, stipulates that, “The Board’s teachers will no longer undergo drug testing following an accident or injury during the course and scope of their employment, without reasonable suspicion of intoxication.”

The Fourth Amendment to the Bill of Rights forbids government searches when there is no reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing.

The drug test of two-time East Baton Rouge Teacher of the Year Peggy Reno illustrates how the School Board’s now defunct drug-testing policy was put into effect. Ms. Reno, a veteran and respected teacher, never in her life used an illegal drug, and her school never suspected otherwise.

A student punched Ms. Reno on September 24, 2008. Although there was no suspicion that she was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, Ms. Reno was forced by a School Board official to submit to an invasive drug test. Countless other teachers who have never used drugs – and who have never been suspected of using drugs – have been subjected to similar unconstitutional searches.

“In this case, both common sense and the Constitution called for a change in course,” said Katie Schwartzmann, an attorney with the ACLU of Louisiana. “It is a waste of time and money, not to mention a gross violation of educators’ rights, to drug test without suspicion.”

The East Baton Rouge Federation of Teachers, a local affiliate of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the national American Federation of Teachers, which represents over 1,600 local members, oppose the drug testing of teachers absent suspicion.

Yigal Bander, an attorney with the firm Kleinpeter & Schwartzberg, LLC is co-counsel in the case and also represents the East Baton Rouge Federation of Teachers.

“The Federation has secured an important victory not only for its own members, but for all teachers in East Baton Rouge and across the nation,” said Bander. “The Constitution must apply equally to all, and the Fourth Amendment protections of not just teachers, but all Americans have been strengthened by today’s outcome.”

Today’s settlement in the case, East Baton Rouge Federation of Teachers v. East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, may be found online at: www.aclu.org/drugpolicy/testing/39696lgl20090529.html

The ACLU’s legal papers may be found online at: www.aclu.org/drugpolicy/testing/38163lgl20081222.html

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