2008 Press Releases

12.22.2008: ACLU Joins Louisiana Teachers in Effort to Halt Unconstitutional Drug Testing

The American Civil Liberties Union and the East Baton Rouge Federation of Teachers sought a federal court order today to suspend an unconstitutional teacher drug testing policy instituted by the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board. The policy subjects any teacher who suffers an injury while on the job to a drug test without any suspicion of drug use. The East Baton Rouge Federation of Teachers, a local affiliate of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the national American Federation of Teachers that represents over 1,600 local members, and the ACLU are seeking an immediate halt to the policy in order to protect teachers' constitutional right to privacy.

"Teachers who suffer an injury on the job should not be subjected to the further indignity of an unconstitutional and degrading examination of their bodily fluids," said Adam Wolf, an attorney with the ACLU. "The School Board's wrongheaded policy piles insult on top of injury."

The drug test of two-time East Baton Rouge Teacher of the Year Peggy Reno illustrates how the School Board's suspicionless drug-testing policy is implemented. Trained to teach English, reading, math, and science classes, Ms. Reno is a veteran and respected teacher. She has never in her life illegally used a controlled substance, and her school has never suspected otherwise.

On September 24, 2008, a student punched Ms. Reno. Although there was no suspicion that she was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, Ms. Reno was forced by a School Board official to submit to an invasive drug test. Countless other teachers who have never used drugs - and who have never been suspected of using drugs - have been subjected to similar unconstitutional searches.

"Teachers should not be forced to surrender their constitutional right to privacy," said Carnell Washington, President of the East Baton Rouge Federation of Teachers. "Surrendering our fundamental right to be free from unwarranted, suspicionless searches should not be a condition of public service."

Through a urine analysis, a drug test can reveal teachers' most sensitive medical information, such as whether they have certain diseases, whether they take prescription medication, and whether they are pregnant. Initial drug tests also have an unacceptably high rate of false positives, which can be triggered by a wide array common products and over-the-counter drugs, resulting in an indelible stigma cast on entirely innocent teachers.

Katie Schwartzmann, an attorney with the ACLU of Louisiana added, "The Fourth Amendment to the Bill of Rights guards against unreasonable searches at the hands of government, and the courts have ruled that post-accident searching of teachers' urine is unconstitutional when there is no suspicion of drug use."

Yigal Bander, an attorney with the firm Kleinpeter & Schwartzberg, LLC is co-counsel in the case and also represents the East Baton Rouge Federation of Teachers. The case, East Baton Rouge Federation of Teachers v. East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, is before the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana.

Click here for the ACLU's legal papers