Court approves drug testing for substitute teachers

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A federal appeals court Thursday rejected a constitutional challenge to a Palm Beach County School Board policy requiring substitute-teacher applicants to take drug tests.

A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals considered whether the board “without any suspicion of wrongdoing” could collect and test urine from prospective substitute teachers or whether the policy violated Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

“We think that the School Board has a sufficiently compelling interest in screening its prospective teachers to justify this invasion of the privacy rights of job applicants, and thus conclude that the School Board has not violated the constitutional mandate barring unreasonable searches and seizures,” said the 54-page opinion, written by Judge Stanley Marcus and joined by Chief Judge Ed Carnes and Judge David Ebel.   “As we see it, ensuring the safety of millions of schoolchildren in the mandatory supervision and care of the state, and ensuring and impressing a drug-free environment in our classrooms, are compelling concerns.”

The case was filed by Joan Friedenberg, who received a conditional offer in 2017 to become a substitute teacher but was told she needed to be fingerprinted and take a drug test. Friedenberg was fingerprinted but refused to take the drug test, Thursday’s opinion said.

Friedenberg sued the school district in federal court in South Florida and sought to make the case a class action. A federal district judge refused to grant a preliminary injunction sought by Friedenberg, which led to the case going to the Atlanta-based appeals court. Thursday’s opinion upheld the denial of the injunction.

“The long and the short of it is that we are satisfied that the testing regime adopted by the Palm Beach County School Board serves a preventive and deterrent function,” Marcus wrote. “When we balance all the interests as we are required to do, the School Board clearly has carried the day. Friedenberg has a diminished privacy interest owing to the unique Fourth Amendment context of the public schools. Plainly, the School Board has made only a minimal intrusion on that privacy interest. It has done so in the service of a serious and compelling need. And the testing regime appears to us be reasonably effective and altogether reasonable.”