A federal judge ruled Friday that a mid-Missouri technical college's mandatory drug testing policy is unconstitutional when applied to most students.
U.S. District Judge Nanette K. Laughrey in Jefferson City sided with the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued Linn State Technical College on behalf of six students. The ACLU claimed the school's widespread drug testing violated students' Fourth Amendment rights against unlawful searches and seizures.
Linn State attorney Kent Brown had not yet read the ruling, but said any ruling against the school would be appealed.
Linn State is a two-year technical school in Linn, Mo., near Jefferson City. In 2011, the college began drug testing all first-year students and some returning students for a variety of drugs including cocaine, methamphetamine and oxycodone. The college collected samples from about 500 students, claiming the tests were necessary for student safety.
The ruling prohibits the drug testing for students in most programs, requires a refund of the $50 each student had to pay for the tests, and requires their urine samples to be destroyed or returned.
"The court recognized that illusory safety concerns can be used to mask unconstitutional purposes," said Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU office in St. Louis.
Laughrey's ruling allows for drug testing for a few programs like aviation maintenance and heavy equipment operations.
The ACLU and Linn State have been battling in court almost from the day the drug testing began. Laughrey originally granted a restraining order against the Linn State drug testing, but a federal appeals court in January overturned that ruling, calling it too broad.
In March, Laughrey granted a preliminary injunction against the testing.
Under the policy, students who test positive for drugs could remain in school if they have a clean test 45 days later. They also must complete an online drug-prevention course or be assigned to other, unspecified "appropriate activities," according to the school's written policy. They would remain on probation for the remainder of the semester and would face an unannounced follow-up test.
Federal and state courts have consistently upheld more limited drug testing of high school and college students, such as those who play sports. But the move by Linn State to enact widespread drug tests of the general student body appears unprecedented, the ACLU said.