U.S. Court Reinstates Ban on College’s Mandatory Drug Tests of Students

In the latest ruling in a five-year-old lawsuit, a federal appeals court has reinstated a ban on mandatory drug testing for most students at the State Technical College of Missouri.

The ruling, by a 9-to-2 vote on Thursday of the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, overturned a decision by a three-judge panel of the court and restored the original trial judge’s finding that the college’s drug-testing policy was unconstitutional.

The trial judge, ruling in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, issued an injunction in 2013 that barred the college, then known as Linn State Technical College, from carrying out the policy on all of its students.

The judge, Nanette K. Laughrey of the U.S. District Court in Jefferson City, Mo., ruled that the college could test students in five programs where public safety was a relevant concern, such as heavy machinery and aviation maintenance.

At the time it announced the policy, in 2011, the two-year college said the testing might better prepare students for the drug-free work environments they would enter after graduation.

“It’s not a matter of catching them doing something wrong and kicking them out of college,” Richard R. Pemberton, the associate dean of student affairs, told The Chronicle. “The whole process is meant to be educational.”

The court’s majority on Thursday said that “fostering a drug-free environment is surely a laudable goal.” But the judges ruled that the college could not justify the drug-testing policy’s ignoring of requirements, backed by the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches, that officials have probable cause or warrants before administering such tests.

The Associated Press was unsuccessful in seeking comment from college officials on Thursday. Any appeal at this stage would go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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