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Mo. school launches widespread drug tests

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LINN, Mo. -- Textbooks? Check.

School sweatshirt? Check.

Urine specimen cup? Only if you want to stay in school.

A drug-free demand greeted new students yesterday at Linn State Technical College, a two-year school in central Missouri that has enacted what may be the most far-reaching drug testing policy at a public college or university in the country.

Federal and state courts have consistently upheld more limited drug testing of public high school students, such as those who play sports, as well as NCAA athletes and students at private colleges. But the move by Linn State to enact widespread drug tests of the general student body appears unprecedented -- and no small point of pride for administrators at the state's only technical college.

"It does appear that our program is unique in its scope and breadth," said Kent Brown, a Jefferson City attorney who represents the 1,200-student school, 100 miles southwest of St. Louis. "But there aren't very many colleges as unique as ours."

School leaders say the tests, which they prefer to call drug screenings, are necessary to ensure student safety at a campus where the coursework includes aircraft maintenance, heavy engine repair, nuclear technology and other dangerous tasks.

They surveyed hundreds of local employers, who overwhelmingly supported a requirement those same students will soon encounter in the job market, said Richard Pemberton, associate dean of student affairs.

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All first-year students -- including those pursuing general education degrees while studying accounting, communications, math, and social sciences -- must comply with the requirement, which began yesterday, two weeks into the fall semester.

The mandatory tests are raising the hackles of civil libertarians, who call it a violation of the Fourth Amendment protection against unlawful searches and seizures, an invasion of privacy and a likely target for a lawsuit.

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