On December 29, 2008, the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia granted a preliminary injunction on behalf of public school teachers and other school employees to prevent the implementation of a random drug testing policy. The Kanawha County Board of Education adopted a policy to become effective January 1, 2009 to randomly (and absent individualized suspicion) subject school employees including teachers, administrators, coaches and certain service personnel. (Other than bus operators who continue to be subject to random drug screens).
The United States Supreme Court has ruled that the government may 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. For years, school bus operators have been subject to random drug screens.
The Kanawha County Board of Education relied upon such legal principles when adopting its policy. The teachers and other school employees objected based primarily on Fourth Amendment grounds.(Unreasonable search and seizure).
United States District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin granted a preliminary injunction to prevent the policy from going into effect on January 1, 2009. The Judge ruled the policy violated the rights of the school employees. Judge Goodwin also found that the school employees subject to the policy are not in “safety sensitive” positions as defined by the U.S. Supreme Court.
All school districts are confronted with this important and complicated issue. Efforts to deter illegal drug use in schools must continue. However random drug testing policies of school employees (other than bus operators) are currently legally problematic.