Thursday, January 08, 2009


A federal court rules that W. Virginia school board cannot randomly drug test teachers

by Larry Geller

West Virginia Education Association vs. Kanawha County Board of Education may indicate how a Hawaii court could rule should the Governor keep pushing for drug testing of Hawaii’s teachers.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Robert Goodwin said the drug testing plan would force teachers to submit to an unconstitutional and unjustified search. He also gave a scathing rebuke of the policy and the school board that approved it.

Goodwin said the Kanawha school system's plan to randomly test 25 percent of its teachers and other school personnel each year was made even though it does not appear that there is a pervasive drug problem in the county.

He said that the school board's argument that something bad could happen while a teacher under the influence of drugs was supervising children was based on an unreasonable kind of worse-case-scenario thinking. Goodwin asked why the board had not also passed a policy to randomly test teachers for tropical diseases. [Charleston Daily Mail, Federal judge freezes, blasts teacher drug testing policy, 12/29/2008]

An ACLU report on the decision, which is a temporary restraining order on the school board, noted:

In today's order, the court found that the teachers were likely to prevail in the lawsuit and that teachers would suffer irreparable harm if drug testing were allowed to continue. Noting that studies show that teachers are among the least likely employees to use drugs and that most courts have struck down programs that randomly drug tested teachers, the court stated that constitutional rights cannot be sacrificed for mere symbolic purposes.

Despite the hysteria created by the Lingle administration around the drug testing and contract issues, the same study would likely support that Hawaii teachers are among the least likely to use drugs.

Another article reported:

Chief U.S. District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin said lawyers for the Kanawha school board did not provide any evidence to show the county school system has a pervasive drug problem or give a strong reason why he should override school employees' civil liberties.

He said that "suspicionless, random drug testing in this case violates the Fourth Amendment" of the U.S. Constitution, which protects Americans against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Employees who are randomly subjected to urine tests face "invasive, degrading, humiliating" searches that should only be required if there is a compelling reason, Goodwin said.

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While I suppose the defensive stance that teachers use less drugs might have some legal postural value, it seems the unacknowledged elephant in the room is cannabis. Then again, preservation of constitutional freedoms perhaps trumps all this. Still, for the sake of clarity, or pragmatism, it would be refreshing if people didn't have to wage their little trips about virtuous teaching, or the lack thereof, based on if a middle school teacher smokes cannabis on his/her own time/place after work. My hat's off to the teacher who can actually engender an encouraging (and sober) teaching environment.

It's different when, as in Hawaii, the teachers AGREE to tests in exchange for pay hikes, then later try to renege on their side of the bargain.

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