CHARLESTON – U.S. District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin has rejected Metro 911's motion to intervene in a random drug testing suit the state's American Federation of Teachers union filed against the Kanawha County school board.
Goodwin announced in an opinion he released Wednesday that his decision on the school board's policy will focus on whether school employees in 43 positions are indeed safety sensitive.
His final ruling will have no direct effect on Metro 911, Goodwin said.
However, Metro 911 was worried about what sort of affect the ruling would have on its drug testing policy because its policy is so similar to the school board's.
"If the Board of Education's similar policy is invalidated as an unconstitutional search pursuant to the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, Metro 911 will be in a difficult position regarding the enforcement of its Substance Abuse Policy," the motion states.
Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper requested Metro 911, which has a random drug testing policy similar to the one proposed by the school board, file the motion.
Initially, Carper, too, had some fears about the lawsuit.
"When you sit there and see a lawsuit filed against a government agency called Kanawha, with the same first name as you, it makes you a little nervous," he said.
But Goodwin relieved Carper's fears when he said his ruling would have no impact on Metro 911.
"He made it very clear that the injunction does not affect us," he said. "There are some people that thought we should suspend our policy or repeal it. The current case does not restrict us from our policy."
In its motion, Metro 911 states the only difference between its policy and the proposed school board policy is that its policy states all employees are subject to random drug testing. That is because all employees impact the life, health and safety of the public.
However, the Kanawha County Board of Education's proposed policy randomly drug tests only those employees deemed safety sensitive.
On Dec. 29, Goodwin ruled in a preliminary motion the Kanawha County Board of Education would not be able to randomly drug test teachers starting Jan. 1.
The decision came after AFT – West Virginia filed a suit Nov. 26 in Kanawha Circuit Court asking 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.
So far, Metro's policy and the Kanawha County Commission, which also has a random drug testing policy that has been in effect for more than one year, has worked well, Carper said.
"On the county commission side, we've found that the policy has worked, meaning we've caught instances of drug use," he said.
The Kanawha County School Board drug testing policy has come under attack because the AFT and other teachers' unions claim it violates employees' Fourth Amendment rights and would embarrass them.
"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," Fred Albert, president of AFT-Kanawha said in a news release after the suit was filed. "The policy, in effect, places all teachers under suspicion; and this is both morally and legally wrong."
The school board contends something bad could happen if a teacher under the influence of drugs was supervising children.
"I do not see how anyone can say that an individual who is responsible for the life, health and safety of our school children is not in a 'safety sensitive' position," he said in a news release. "All it takes is one incident where a child's safety is put at risk, and we will all have wished we had taken steps that could have prevented a child from getting hurt. I realize this is not a very politically popular position, but should we not err on the side of caution when it come to the safety of our children?"