Drug testing lawsuit reignites

Parents ask court for judgment to stop random screenings

Log Cabin Staff Writer
Published Wednesday, March 24, 2004

The drug-testing lawsuit against the Conway School District is back on.

Opponents of the Conway district's random drug-testing policy filed a complaint Tuesday in Faulkner County Circuit Court asking for a declaratory judgment to stop the testing.

Parents Bruce L. Plopper, Michael D. Conine, Henry A. Zimmerebner and Maureen L. Zimmerebner have filed the complaint on behalf of their children against Superintendent James Simmons and the school board through its president, Dr. Terry Fiddler. It was filed by Conway attorney Lynn F. Plemmons.

Plopper, a journalism professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, said the administrators and school personnel "who support and maintain suspicionless drug testing are like schoolyard bullies who torment students just because they can.

"In this case, however, these people are worse than such bullies because they are educated and should know better than to turn the civil liberties of equal protection and privacy into empty promises."

The policy to randomly drug test students in grades 7-12 in extracurricular activities was approved by a 4-3 vote in August 2002 by the Conway School Board.

The same parents filed a lawsuit, but it was dismissed with prejudice by Circuit Judge Michael Maggio in January 2003, because Plemmons did not file some necessary paperwork. However, Maggio approved a motion in March 2003 reversing his ruling.

In another twist, Plemmons dropped the lawsuit at the end of April 2003.

When asked the difference between the lawsuits, Plopper said, "There's not much difference, except we might be stressing privacy as much as equal protection this time. We have a very strong case for both."

The complaint alleges that the policy violates the rights of the student plaintiffs under section 29 of the Constitution of Arkansas, as well as the 14th amendment of the United States Constitution.

Plopper maintained that, "There are no scientific studies that show suspicionless testing of students in extracurricular activities works."

Superintendent Simmons said, "With the continuing emphasis, even recently with the President of the United States George W. Bush encouraging this to be done in public schools, we still feel like we're doing what we need to be doing with that. We are reviewing our effectiveness ... and plan to at the end of this year make a report to the board about the status of that program and any changes that we see from our review that need to be done."

Simmons said there have been drug-abuse incidents with students in the community, "so we're trying to look at more matching up where our efforts need to be at."

Gerald Harrison, the district's director of secondary education and drug-testing coordinator, said 400 students have been tested since fall 2003 and five have tested positive. The tests cost $16 "a pop," he said.

"And all parent conferences with those five have been positive. Parents have been appreciative. ... This program is for helping parents and kids - it's not to make a fool out of anybody or hurt anybody."

(Staff writer Tammy Keith can be reached by e-mail at tammy.keith@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1238.)

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