Pubdate: Tue, 2 Jun 2009
Source: Asheville Citizen-Times (NC)
Copyright: 2009 Asheville Citizen-Times
Author: Jordan Schrader
Referenced: N.C. Court of Appeals opinion
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)


RALEIGH - Graham County Schools violated employees' constitutional 
rights by deciding to subject them to random tests for drugs and 
alcohol, the state Court of Appeals ruled this morning.

Reversing Superior Court Judge James U. Downs' order in favor of the 
school board, the three-judge panel said the board violated the state 
constitution's prohibitions on unreasonable searches.

"Constitutional rights are not lightly cast aside," Judge Linda Stephens wrote.

Said Stephens: "... we should recall that the cherished liberties 
enjoyed in our brief historical moment have been inherited by this 
generation only because they have been nurtured and protected by 
earlier generations of Americans so driven in their pursuit of 
liberty that life itself was not too great a cost to purchase liberty 
for themselves and their posterity."

The school board could appeal to the state Supreme Court. The board 
is meeting this morning and officials could not immediately be reached.

The school board approved random testing for virtually all employees 
in 2006, saying it would be unsafe for a teacher using drugs to watch 
over students. The policy has been on hold ever since.

Judges said the board didn't show evidence of a drug problem among 
school employees that would justify changing the former policy, which 
mandated drug testing upon hiring and upon suspicion.

They said school officials acknowledged no child had been harmed by 
educators under the influence and few positive tests had turned up 
under the old policy.

Lawyers for the board argued that educators have the kind of 
safety-sensitive jobs that can be subject to random testing, like, 
for example, an airport maintenance mechanic whom the North Carolina 
courts ruled could be randomly tested.

Stephens, though, wrote that "there is absolutely no evidence in the 
record which in any way equates the safety concerns inherent in the 
driving of a motor vehicle on the apron of an airport's flight area 
with the safety concerns inherent in the job duties of any Board employee."

Judge James Wynn and Chief Judge John C. Martin joined Stephens in her opinion.

Former school board chairman Mitch Colvard, the policy's main backer, 
hopes the board will appeal.

Plenty of employees of private businesses face random tests, he said.

"It's a sad day when you have to get tested to work at a fast food 
restaurant," Colvard said, "... but you can go to school and 
influence our children, our future, and not be tested."
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