Linn State Technical College, a two-year school in Missouri, has implemented a school-wide, mandatory drug screening. All student enrollment is contingent upon passing these tests.
Linn State offers courses and degrees involving dangerous equipment (nuclear technology, aircraft maintenance, machinery repair, etc.), and it claims that these tests will improve safety on campus.
Lawyers for Linn State compare the drug testing of students to the conditions of employment they will face after graduation. They say that a drug-free environment is safer, and students should prepare for a market in which drug tests are often necessary. The practice of drug testing is common for private employers, and this is a great idea for students whose courses actually involve risky work with machines and other tasks where mental impairment is dangerous.
Some students from Linn State applaud the measure, citing hands-on classes where coordination is key. However, Linn State’s proposed drug testing method makes little sense.
Laws governing privacy and hiring for corporations and states are different, so the school’s analogy does not work. Suspicionless drug testing (analogous to searching a vehicle without cause) is hard to defend. Civil libertarians claim that screening without cause constitutes an illegal search prohibited by the 4th Amendment.
The sweeping nature of Linn State’s new policy is unnecessary and contradicts many current practices. Employees have won cases in which they were terminated for noncompliance with drug testing laws; all they have to do is prove that their job does not have a sufficient connection to public safety.
Why should that standard change for Linn State students simply taking core or bookwork classes? The Georgia Institute of Technology, a similar school, mandates drug screenings, but only for employees working in certain conditions. All students are required to be tested at Linn State.
And, students at Linn State must pay for the $50 tests themselves. Those not taking any classes affecting public safety will likely view this fee to be an unnecessary burden. These drug screenings will irritate much of the student body and will most likely not make the campus safer.
The probation time for a student who tests positive on their tests is 45 days. If a student tests positive a second time, they are required to withdraw from the university.
A California judge concluded in 1988 that pre-employment drug tests operating similarly to Linn State’s tests don’t deter drug use and don’t accurately predict whether an employee will be at a higher risk for crime, mistakes or inefficiency.
Linn State school officials are preparing for court, and the Missouri Civil Liberties Association is doing the same. However, Linn State should first make sure that the policy is consistent with the Constitution and Missouri law, and then make sure that it may actually improve the school. Otherwise, why waste student fees defending it?
Rachel Farhi is a junior political science and English literature double major and may be reached at [email protected].