Pubdate: Thu, 17 Jan 2008
Source: Morning Call (Allentown, PA)
Copyright: 2008 The Morning Call Inc.
Author: Steve Esack
Bookmark: (Drug Test)


Bethlehem and Easton are considering plans for new

Getting a teaching job in the Bethlehem and Easton area  school
districts may soon require one more test.

A drug test.

Both districts are considering new policies to screen  prospective
professional employees for substance abuse  problems.

Easton will discuss a proposed policy during a school  board meeting
at 7:30 p.m. today.

Acting Superintendent Joseph Kish said in an e-mail  Wednesday that no
district incidents prompted officials  to consider the policy.

"A board member has a similar policy at work," Kish  said. "They
thought it might be a good discussion item  for the Policy

If the policies receive board approval later this year,  Bethlehem and
Easton would join Northampton Area School  District in requiring a
drug test for new hires.

"This is something we've been talking about for a  while now,"
Bethlehem Area School Board President  Loretta Leeson said Tuesday.
"As times change, we have  to change with the times."

Employee testing became an issue across the Lehigh  Valley last year
after former Nitschmann Middle School  Principal John Acerra was
arrested in February 2007 for  trying to sell crystal methamphetamine
in his school  office. Acerra, 51, of Allentown is serving a two-to
four-year prison sentence.

Northampton and Palisades School District were two of  the first local
districts to discuss screening all  employees for drugs following
Acerra's arrest. However,  the districts backed off their plans for
current  employees because of constitutional and privacy  concerns.

Craig Zieger, president of the Bethlehem teachers  union, said he does
not have an opinion on the pending  policy.

"My understanding is they can probably do this for new  employees,
but not current teachers because it would be  a violation of their
constitutional rights. We would  oppose that."

Bethlehem School Director Craig T. Haytmanek, a  surgeon, said most
professions now have drug screening  as a condition of employment.
However, random drug  testing is still considered a violation of
privacy,  including in the medical profession. He said a hospital
needs "just cause" of suspected drug use to force an  employee to
take a drug test.

It is not known how many of the state's 501 school  districts have
policies dictating pre-employment drug  testing, said Steve Robinson,
spokesman for the  Pennsylvania School Boards Association. He said his
  nonprofit organization, which helps local school boards  with policy
and legal decisions, does not track data on  drug testing of staff.

"It's something we probably should have," Robinson

John Clark, spokesman for the Pennsylvania State  Education
Association, the state's largest teachers  union, said talk about
screening all employees has  quieted down. He said he is not aware of
any policies  being floated to screen existing employees for drugs,
which PSEA opposes.

Clark said he does not know how many districts have  instituted
pre-employment drug testing. He said PSEA  does not object to school
districts testing new hires  for substance abuse problems.

"Our role is to represent those employees who've been  hired and are
members of the local association," he  said.

The Northampton Area School Board approved its drug  testing policy
for new hires in October. The Bethlehem  Area School Board's Human
Resources Committee approved  the first draft of the drug screening
policy Monday.  Easton Area School Board will discuss Thursday night a
  "pre-employment drug testing," policy, which is based  on two
policies from the Clairton City and  Hollidaysburg Area school districts.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Derek