Federal judge backs teachers' union push to stop Kanawha's random drug tests

By Kelly Holleran | Dec 29, 2008


CHARLESTON -- The Kanawha County Board of Education will not be able to randomly drug test teachers beginning Thursday, thanks to a preliminary motion granted Monday by U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin.

The decision comes after the American Federation of Teachers -- West Virginia filed a suit Nov. 26 in Kanawha Circuit Court asking for the court to end the board's plan to randomly test employees beginning in January. The school board moved the case to federal court Dec. 9.

"I was very excited and pleased not only that the judge granted the motion, but by what he said as he did that, which is that the board did not show any evidence there is a pervasive drug problem among employees," Judy Hale, president of AFT-WV, said. "I thought he was very clear in his own words about how important it is we uphold the constitution."

Because Goodwin granted the preliminary motion, the next step for AFT-WV is to gather evidence to request a permanent injunction that would prevent the school board from ever being allowed to perform random drug tests on employees, said Bob Bastress Jr., an attorney for AFT-WV.

The Dec. 29 hearing was important for teachers across the county, Bastress said.

"I think they felt they were being asked to participate in a process that was totally unnecessary and an invasion of their privacy," he said.

Goodwin agreed, saying teachers were forced to submit to an unconstitutional and unjustified search.

Before the hearing, AFT-WV and other teachers' unions warned the Kanawha County School Board of the dangers of passing a drug testing policy, Bastress said.

"We told the board the law was not on their side," he said. "Judge Goodwin agreed with us. The board was forewarned, but they decided to push ahead."

Before today's hearing, school boards in other counties across the mountain state already started talking about implementing a similar drug-testing policy but were waiting for the outcome of Kanawha County's case, Hale said.

The decision to randomly test employees violates their constitutional rights, Fred Albert, president of AFT-Kanawha said in a news release.

"The Board left us no choice but to file the suit once they decided to implement a policy that risks student safety and violates the constitutional rights of its employees," he said. "The policy, in effect, places all teachers under suspicion; and this is both morally and legally wrong."

Not only would the policy violate employees' Fourth Amendment rights, but it would embarrass them as well, said Hale.

"It is humiliating to have to urinate in a cup while someone else watches," she said.

And for cause testing, the current Kanawha County School Board drug testing policy implemented last year, is more effective than random testing, which is the policy in controversy, Hale said.

Under for cause testing, teachers can be tested, but only for certain reasons. For example, if an employee is suspected to be under the influence of drugs, he or she can be tested. However, with random testing, teachers are selected for drug testing by chance. AFT-WV supports the for cause testing.

"Even if there is a problem, we don't think this (random drug testing) is a solution," Hale said.

The money spent on randomly drug testing could be put toward better uses, Hale said.

"The board is going to spend tens of thousands of dollars on this," she said. "Yet they did away with extracurricular field trips citing a lack of money. I think this is a waste of taxpayer money."

The school board argued something bad could happen if a teacher who was under the influence of drugs was supervising children.

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