Drug testing for substitute teachers, aides, tutors challenged


Update: See the school district’s reponse in bold, below.

A Boynton Beach retiree who has worked her way through the application process to be a tutor, a substitute teacher or a classroom aide is instead suing the Palm Beach County School Board because in order to land one of those jobs the district is demanding she – and every other job seeker – pass a drug test first.

Asking all applicants to submit to a drug test is what’s called “suspicionless drug testing,” and it’s been frowned upon as a practice by public agencies.

To be clear,  former teacher Joan Friedenberg, would “pass” such a test, her attorney James K. Green says, “but she is unwilling to forego her constitutional rights as a condition of employment.”

While private employers routinely require job applicants to be tested for drugs these days, courts have said that peeing in a cup for a drug screen is considered a search.

“The Supreme Court of the United States has held that suspicionless drug testing by the government is an unreasonable search that violates the Fourth Amendment, except under certain jealously guarded circumstances such as those involving employees in safety-sensitive positions where there is a concrete danger of real harm,” wrote Green, a former president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.

Those “safety-sensitive” jobs include nuclear power plant operator, people who work on natural gas pipelines, truck drivers, railroad operators.

Certain courts in the country have ruled that teachers aren’t in this category.

The school district stands by its policy.

“It is the District’s position that pre-employment testing is important and necessary to the hiring process, particularly when it comes to positions such as bus drivers, heavy equipment operators, teachers and other school-based positions involving regular contact with students,” according to a statement given to the The Palm Beach Post on Wednesday.

Friedenberg, a 65-year-old who was active in the classroom within the past five years, began applying for a job in the classroom in mid-December. By February,  she had been invited to an interview, taken a $25 course in how to be a substitute and was fingerprinted.

The only thing that stood between her and a job in a school was the drug test.

The suit filed in U.S. District Court on Feb. 22 is seeking class action status, intending to represent all who have sought a job at the district. It asks the court to halt the district’s drug-testing regime and declare the policy behind it unconstitutional.

Green said the ACLU had presented its concerns regarding this policy more than a year ago and tried to resolve the matter amicably to no avail.



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