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Carbon judge will decide on injunction request for Panther Valley drug policy Judge Serfass considers action filed by ACLU on students' behalf against the district

Published April 30. 2011 09:00AM

A Carbon County judge will decide on a request for a preliminary injunction to stop the Panther Valley School District from enforcing its drug policy concerning students who participate in sports and extracurricular activities.

Judge Steven R. Serfass conducted a hearing on the action filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against the district which was filed on behalf of Morgan and Donna Thomas. The Thomas' sought the action on behalf of two of their children, a son, Jeremy, 18, and a daughter, identified in the suit as M.T.

Attorneys for the ACLU argued that the policy is unconstitutional and invades the privacy of the Thomas' children. The injunction was sought to end the "irreparable harm" the policy is doing to the two children.

During the hearing Thomas and the two children named in the suit were called as witnesses.

Thomas told Serfass he refused to sign a form sent home with his children agreeing to the drug test policy. His son Jeremy was participating in the golf team when the policy was adopted in August 2010. He was told by his coach he could no longer be part of the team since he and his parents did not sign the consent form for the drug testing.

He said he objected to the law because he felt his rights and that of his children were being violated by the policy.

He said he didn't sign the form because, "I didn't think it was right." He added he felt like he was being "bullied" by the action of the school district.

Jeremy Thomas testified that he participated in the golf team because his friends did and he enjoyed the competition. He also said he participates in the school's ROTC program.

He said he was upset when he learned he could not finish the year on the golf team, especially because he is a senior and will graduate in June. He also said because of the policy he can't go to the senior prom, an activity that only comes along once in a person's high school life.

The other child said she planned to try out for the basketball team in the winter and was a member of the band. The policy will prevent her from playing on the basketball squad.

Under cross examination by attorney William McPartland, representing the school district, both children said they never were forced to submit to a drug test since the consent form was not signed.

The ACLU attorneys argued that the injunction should be granted so that Jeremy Thomas could attend the prom, which is May 7, and that other students are also subject to the illegal policy.

The school district argued that the policy has three elements, two of which can not be argued as being illegal. The three are voluntary testing, reasonable suspicion testing and random mandatory testing. The first two are legal, it was argued.

The ACLU legal team admitted that those two elements are probably legal, but said the mandatory testing is the one that violates the constitution and invades the privacy of the students.

The ACLU asked Serfass to impose the injunction and stop the enforcement of the policy until the matter can be decided at a full hearing. They also argued the policy was adopted after some of the school activities had already begun and that was not fair. By leaving it in place until a trial is held on the case would continue the harm to the Panther Valley students, was also argued.

McPartland said that the participation in sports and extracurricular activities is voluntary and not required. He said if a student is denied participation in sports and extracurricular activities it will not hinder them from graduating.

The school district adopted the policy by a 5-4 vote on Aug. 26, 2010. The following month, the board said the policy had been drafted by the Pennsylvania School Board Association and held up under legal challenges and that safeguards were in place against false-positive test results.

Serfass said he would take the matter under advisement and told both sides they could submit any court rulings supporting their positions by 5 p.m. Monday.

He will issue an order concerning the injunction request at a later date.

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