Teachers Entitled to Adequate Notice Before Random Drug Test, Court Rules

A Tennessee Federal District Court has ruled that a local school board’s random drug testing program violated public school teachers’ constitutional right to a reasonable expectation of privacy. Smith Cnty. Educ. Ass’n v. Smith Cnty. Bd. Of Educ. (M.D. Tenn. 2011).

Public employees have greater protections than private-sector employees vis-à-vis the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee of freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. Nevertheless, the court acknowledged that “suspicionless drug testing” can be constitutional if it “serves special government needs.” It further acknowledged that random drug testing of teachers serves such a need, because of the special relationship teachers have with their students.
However, the court said, to pass constitutional muster, a drug policy “must give constitutionally adequate notice” and be “implemented with due regard” for teachers’ privacy rights.
The drug policy in question made no mention of the possibility of random tests, and in fact, teachers were told no such tests would occur. Moreover, the drug policy stated that only five types of drugs would be tested for, while the school board actually tested for nine. Finally, no testing thresholds were established; rather, the policy simply stated that a positive test result for illegal drugs in any detectable amount could result in discipline.
This is a wakeup call for public employers to review their drug polices, says MSEC attorney Curtis Graves. “Many times, the text of the drug policy hasn’t been reviewed in years, until it no longer accurately reflects the public entity’s actual practice.
“For example, many labs now routinely test for ecstasy. If a public employer fails to mention ecstasy in its policy, it could make it difficult to discipline an employee on that basis.”