GA Teacher Case - Fired for Refusing Drug Test ? Hits Supreme Court

July 7, 2008 - 7:02 PM

( - Attorneys have come to the defense of a Georgia teacher fired for refusing to undergo a urinalysis drug test in 1996.

The Rutherford Institute petitioned the US Supreme Court on behalf of Sherry Hearn, a former "Teacher of the Year" with 27 years of experience in the classroom.

The Hearn's case came about when the social studies teacher at Savannah's Windsor Forest High School refused a urinalysis drug test within a two-hour period mandated by the school system. Hearn refused on personal principle and a belief that the school was violating her constitutional rights. She wanted to consult with her attorney before being forced to undergo any kind of drug testing.

Hearn routinely objected to the school's practice of allowing police officers and "canine detectives" to perform lockdowns and searches of the entire school and its student body on the grounds that the searches were a violation of the students' constitutional rights to privacy.

On April 4, 1996, high school campus police at Windsor Forest conducted a surprise "lockdown and drug search," removing students and teachers from classrooms and allowing drug-sniffing dogs to search the students, school faculty and parking lot.

Without Hearn's knowledge or consent, a campus police officer allowed a canine to enter her car through an open window. Police claim the dog was "alerted" to the presence of drugs in the dashboard ashtray. A police officer then entered the car and retrieved what he alleged was a small fragment of marijuana. When asked to produce the fragment, however, the officer was unable to do so, claiming that the substance had been consumed in a field test.

Nevertheless, in accordance with the school's drug policy, Hearn was ordered to undergo a urinalysis drug test within two hours of notification that a "substance" had been discovered in her car.

Hearn refused the test on the grounds of illegal search without consent or warrant, the right of constitutional privacy and her inability to contact or be represented by counsel.

After gaining legal representation, Hearn submitted to a drug test the next day, April 5th, that confirmed there were no traces of illegal drugs in her system.

However, the Windsor Forest school board fired Hearn for not taking the urinalysis drug test within the required two-hour period. A federal trial court and appeals court affirmed the school board's decision.

Rutherford Institute attorneys have petitioned the Supreme Court in the Hearn case in order to address the important constitutional issues of whether public school teachers and students have the right to be free from suspicionless, mass drug searches on high school grounds and whether Hearn could have been ordered to undergo a drug test based on alleged contraband that was illegally seized.

"The Rutherford Institute is gravely concerned that the rights of students and teachers, like Sherry Hearn, are being systematically taken away in the name of enforcing school 'zero tolerance' drug policies," said John W Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute.

"We are hopeful the Supreme Court will address this issue and reverse the present trend which favors treating public schools like prisons rather than educational institutions," Whitehead said.

Whitehead added that The Rutherford Institute is an international, nonprofit civil liberties organization committed to defending constitutional and human rights.