ATLANTA — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has ruled against a woman who was denied a substitute teacher position because she refused to take a drug test.
According to the appeals court, the drug testing was required under the school district’s “Drug and Alcohol-Free Workplace” policy, which provides for drug testing to be performed in conformity with Florida’s Administrative Code.
The appeals court upheld the district court’s ruling, saying Joan Friedenberg can’t refuse the drug testing because it’s especially important for a school position.
The appeals court said Friedenberg applied for the substitute teacher job in the Palm Beach County School District in 2017, then sued the district because the drug test allegedly violated the Fourth Amendment.
“Friedenberg moved the district court for preliminary injunctive relief, arguing, among other things, that she could establish a substantial likelihood of success on the merits,” the opinion stated.
The appeals court said the district court denied preliminary injunctive relief and determined that Friedenberg had established standing to challenge only the application of the drug testing policy to substitute teachers, not to all school district employment applicants.
The district court also concluded that the school board had established a special need to conduct suspicion-less drug testing of substitute teacher applicants, the appeals court said.
“Though Friedenberg’s privacy interests were implicated in the testing regime, the district court concluded that the urinalysis was a ‘relatively noninvasive’ process and the testing regime was ‘not unduly intrusive,’” the opinion stated.
The appeals court added that the Supreme Court has developed a narrow exception to the Fourth Amendment expectation of individualized suspicion where a search “serves special governmental needs.”
In the context of public schools, the court said the school board’s testing regime as applied to substitute teacher applicants is a reasonable one and the district court committed no abuse of discretion in denying a preliminary injunction.
“To determine whether a warrantless search is reasonable, we consider whether the government has demonstrated a ‘special need’ to circumvent the warrant requirement, and, if so, we weigh this against the public and private interests at stake,” the opinion stated.
According to the opinion, the ruling depends on the context of the search and the status or role of the person being searched.
“It plays out uniquely in schools, where teachers and administrators have a ‘legitimate need to maintain an environment in which learning can take place,’” the opinion stated. “The danger posed by intoxicated teachers is significant and it is ‘readily apparent’ that the School Board ‘has a compelling interest in ensuring’ that teachers—including substitutes—are not habitual drug users.”
The appeals court concluded that the drug-testing program employed by the school district was the type of intrusion the Supreme Court had found minimally invasive and the procedures for collection were fully consonant with those that had been approved in the past.