Pubdate: Sat, 15 Sep 2007
Source: Honolulu Star-Bulletin (HI)
Copyright: 2007 Honolulu Star-Bulletin
Author: Alexandre Da Silva
Note: Details about a series of meetings about the lawsuit are at
Bookmark: (Hawaii)
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)


The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii wants to prevent the 
state from testing public school teachers for drugs next school year, 
charging that the program would be ineffective and costly and would 
violate privacy rights.

ACLU officials say they will soon file a lawsuit against the state on 
behalf of teachers who contend they were forced to agree to random 
and reasonable-suspicion drug testing to get a pay hike under a new 
two-year contract signed in the spring.

"The state is now in a dubious position of being the first state ever 
to subject its public-educational force to a blanket policy of random 
drug testing," said Vanessa Chong, ACLU of Hawaii executive director. 
"It unfairly violates the rights of thousands of law-abiding public 
school employees while doing little to protect anyone."

State Attorney General Mark Bennett defended the program set to begin 
June 30, arguing it "violates neither state law nor federal law."

"We will vigorously defend it," he said. "We believe that the state 
and the teachers union have an absolute right to sign this type of a contract."

The state made drug testing of teachers a non-negotiable demand 
during talks with the Hawaii State Teachers Association, which 
represents about 13,000 teachers. Though the program was met with 
resistance by some, 61.3 percent of more than 8,000 union members 
voted in May to ratify a contract giving them 4 percent raises in the 
current and next school years.

Plans for the drug testing policy came in the wake of six 
drug-related arrests of Department of Education employees in a 
six-month period, beginning in March 2006 when a Leilehua High School 
teacher was arrested for dealing crystal methamphetamine.

The incidents prompted legislators to introduced a bill that, had it 
passed, would have expanded drug testing to all public school 
employees who work close to children if there was reasonable 
suspicion they were intoxicated.

The Education Department, which is also considering a drug-sniffing 
dog program, conducts drug tests only of bus drivers, some physical 
therapists and auto mechanics instructors.

The ACLU decided to challenge the drug testing of teachers to support 
several employees upset about it, Chong said. The ACLU compiled a 
team of legal experts who will, starting Sept. 27, hold meetings on 
Maui, Kauai, Oahu and the Big Island.

Several teachers complained about the state's firm position to object 
to any contract unless it carried a drug testing provision, said HSTA 
Executive Director Joan Husted.

"There are teachers who believe they were blackmailed," she said, 
"but we also heard from teachers who believe they have an obligation 
to ensure their schools are drug-free."

Husted said the union has developed guidelines to test teachers based 
on reasonable suspicion and is working on the random portion.

The union and education officials will meet formally for the first 
time next month to work out details of the program, said Greg 
Knudsen, Department of Education spokesman.

Randall Myers, who teaches sixth-graders at Sunset Beach Elementary, 
said the state rushed to judgment when it decided a drug testing 
program was needed to curb substance use on campuses.

"I think they made a huge leap to assuming that it is a generalized 
problem in the schools," Myers said. 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake