158 F.3d 361 (6th Cir. 1998), 97-5405, Knox County Educ. Ass'n v. Knox County Bd. of Educ.

Docket Nº:97-5405, 97-5408.
Citation:158 F.3d 361
Case Date:September 29, 1998
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

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158 F.3d 361 (6th Cir. 1998)




Nos. 97-5405, 97-5408.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

September 29, 1998

Argued June 11, 1998.

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Jeremiah A. Collins (argued and briefed), Alice Margaret O'Brien (briefed), Bredhoff & Kaiser, Washington, DC, Richard L. Colbert (briefed), Cornelius & Collins, Nashville, TN, for Plaintiff-Appellee-Cross-Appellant.

Mary A.R. Stackhouse (briefed), Knoxville, TN, John E. Owings (argued and briefed), Knoxville, TN, for Defendant-Appellant-Cross-Appellee.

Before: NELSON and RYAN Circuit Judges; ROSEN, District Judge.


ROSEN, District Judge. [*]


This appeal raises challenging and far-reaching constitutional questions concerning drug testing of teachers and other personnel in our nation's schools. Not only are a number of the issues presented here of first-impression for our Circuit, but these issues call upon us to consider and reconcile important constitutional and societal values concerning the environment in which our children are educated. Because the law in this area is unsettled and the issues of significant import to our schools and communities, the Court examines these important questions in some detail and at some length.


Plaintiff Knox County Education Association ("KCEA"), which represents professional employees in the Knox County School System, initiated this action to challenge drug and alcohol testing procedures adopted by Defendant Knox County Board of Education ("Board"), which is the body responsible for the administration, management, and control of the Knox County School System. In the District Court, KCEA made a facial attack on the Board's "Drug-Free Workplace Substance Abuse Policy," seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. The policy establishes, inter alia, two different levels of testing: (1) suspicionless drug testing for all individuals who apply for, transfer to, or are promoted to, "safety sensitive" positions within the Knox County School system, including teaching positions; and (2) "reasonable suspicion" drug and/or alcohol testing of

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all school employees. KCEA challenged both testing programs as violative of the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.

In response, the Board twice moved for summary judgment on the basis that certain positions in the Knox County School system had already been ruled to be "safety sensitive" as a matter of law in a previous decision rendered in litigation challenging an earlier version of the Policy. See, Knox County Education Association v. Knox County Board of Education, No. CIV 3-91-72 (E.D. Tenn. April 13, 1994) ("KCEA I"). Defendant argued, as it argues on appeal, that KCEA I was binding in this matter through the application of the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel, and that the new Policy, which was carefully drafted to conform with the requirements for constitutional drug testing enunciated in KCEA I, must be found constitutional. United States District Judge James H. Jarvis denied the motions, finding the language in KCEA I regarding safety sensitive positions dictum. The Board moved for summary judgment a third time, and moved that the District Court take judicial notice of the finding in KCEA I. The District Court predictably denied this motion as well.

The matter was tried on November 12, 1996. In an Opinion and Order dated March 4, 1997, the District Court found that the Board's drug testing policy violated the Fourth Amendment to the extent that (1) it permitted any suspicionless drug testing; and (2) in the manner by which it permitted alcohol testing upon reasonable suspicion. The District Court enjoined the Board from further implementation and enforcement of those sections of the Policy, and found the remainder of the policy facially valid.

This matter is now before the Court on the cross-appeals of the parties.


  1. Knox County School System

    The Knox County School system is comprised of eighty-eight schools, fifty-three of which are elementary schools and thirty-five of which are middle or high schools. Fifty-three thousand students attend the Knox County Schools, roughly half of whom are elementary school students and half are middle or high school students.

    Thirty-two hundred teachers are employed in the Knox County Schools. According to the Director of Personnel Betty Sparks, a typical day's work for an elementary school teacher revolves around the students in his or her classroom. Elementary school teachers plan for, instruct, and supervise the children in their classroom during the school day. In addition, teachers supervise children coming and going to school, and monitor them in the hallways and cafeteria.

    Similarly, the duties of a high school teacher revolve around teaching his or her classes. A high school teacher typically spends six hours of each school day either instructing students or preparing to do so. During the remainder of the school day, high school teachers monitor the hallways when students are changing classes, and may assume other supervisory duties on a volunteer basis.

    The Knox County Schools are also staffed by a number of non-teaching professionals who are trained to address the physical and psychological health and safety needs of the students, including nurses, social workers, educational diagnosticians, occupational therapists and physical therapists. To respond to violence or other illegal activity that might occur in or around the schools, Knox County has a Department of School Security comprised of a Chief of Security, four law enforcement investigators, and twenty-four armed, uniformed security officers. One security officer is assigned to each high school, and the remainder of the officers respond to reported incidents at any school.

    According to Chief of Security Stephen Griffin, even in those schools where there is a uniformed officer, the majority of information concerning students' behavior comes to the attention of security officers through the observations of the principal or teachers. (J.A. 1122). Griffin testified as follows at trial:

    Q. Mr. Griffin, since you do not have security officers for every school, are teachers and principals at the schools important to school security? And if so, why?

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    A. Most definitely. They are the frontline of security as far as the schools are concerned. Even in schools where there is a uniformed officer, the majority of information generated to our office is initiated through a principal or administrator.

    (J.A. 937). Furthermore, Director of Personnel Betty Sparks testified that detecting drug use and the possession of a weapon is among teachers' responsibilities. (J.A. 890). Ms. Sparks testified that as a teacher "it is vitally important for [her] to be on [her] toes every minute with every youngster [she] is working with." (J.A. 887). 1

    The Security Department reports all incidents, whether criminal or not, that implicate the safety and security of students or staff. The incident reports for 1995-96 school year did not report any unlawful or violent conduct in the fifty-three elementary schools. The records reflect thirty-four assaults on students at the thirty-five middle and high schools, and fourteen assaults on teachers or principals (with no incidents occurring at all in twenty schools). There is no evidence that a pronounced drug/alcohol abuse problem exists among the Knox County teachers 2, nor is there evidence that the inattentiveness or negligence of a teacher has ever contributed to, or was related in any way, to these assaults or to any security incident.

    With respect to non-violent but unlawful conduct, the Board's records indicate that during the 1995-96 school year, thirty-five students were charged with the possession of a weapon 3 and seventy-four were charged with the possession or use of alcohol or drugs. 4 Again, there is no record evidence that a teacher has ever failed to report a student for the use or possession of drugs, alcohol, or weapons. 5

  2. Prior Litigation Over the 1991 Drug Testing Policy

    In December of 1989, the Board adopted a "Drug-Free Workplace Policy," which was then revised several times over the course of the next two and a half years. In 1991, KCEA filed suit challenging the policy on Fourth Amendment grounds.

    In that case, the district court, Judge Jordan presiding, noted that the policy did not describe the methods or procedures to be followed in obtaining or testing urine samples, nor did it assure the employee applicants that their privacy interests in the results would be protected. This led the court

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    to conclude: "Because the privacy interests of the professional employee applicants in this case are not protected at all by the policy as it is written, the court finds that for this reason alone the policy must fail constitutional examination." (J.A. 282).

    The court did not end its inquiry at that point, however. The court addressed the second part of the balancing test to examine whether the governmental interests were strong enough to test all professional employees, irrespective of the nexus their position had to the safety of the children. The court then found that of the professional employee positions subject to pre-employment drug screening, principals (and assistant principals), teachers (and traveling teachers), teacher aids, and school secretaries occupied safety sensitive positions because "[a]ny lapse in attention or judgment on the part of these employees could result in an immediate...

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