Nearly six years ago, the Board of Regents for what was then called Linn State Technical College required drug testing for all students. This month, the court challenge to that policy, which began in September 2011, came to a quiet end as the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider the case.
The State Technical College policy was intended “to provide a safe, healthy and productive environment for everyone who learns and works at Linn State Technical college by detecting, preventing and deterring drug use and abuse among students.” The policy applied to all incoming students—not just those who enroll in programs where safety is an issue.
The Supreme Court’s order leaves in place the December 2016 decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. According to the Eighth Circuit, the College could not impose a blanket drug testing requirement on all students. It had to exclude “students ‘who were not, are not, or will not be enrolled’ in safety-sensitive programs.” Thus the College could test those enrolling in the Aviation Maintenance, Electrical Distribution Systems, Industrial Electricity, Power Sports, and CAT Dealer Service Technician programs. The Court named the Design Drafting program as one that is not “safety-sensitive,” and thus one that must be excluded from the drug testing requirement.
The State Technical College litigation gives guidance to other institutions of higher education. Any requirement for mandatory drug testing of students must be tailored to areas where there are safety or other concerns tied to the use of drugs. And before imposing any such policy, the institution should make a factual case to support it. Failure to do so could not just doom the policy, but result in considerable expense: State Technical College was ordered to pay more than $171,000 in fees for the work of plaintiffs’ lawyers leading to the trial court’s decision; that figure will grow considerably as the courts add fees for defending against the College’s unsuccessful appeals.