Pubdate: Thu, 17 Jul 2008
Source: Telegraph, The (Nashua, NH)
Copyright: 2008 Telegraph Publishing Company
Author: Michael Brindley
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)


School superintendents are reluctant to test teachers for illegal drug
use, even though most believe they have the right to do so.

That was the finding of a University of New Hampshire study that
polled superintendents across the country, asking whether their
district has policies on drug testing teachers, and whether they would
support such policies.

The Telegraph's informal survey of local school districts found none
that have implemented drug-testing policies for teachers.

For example, Robert Suprenant, superintendent in Milford, said there
is drug testing done for school bus drivers but not for teachers.

"I can't say that I would see the need for that," he said. "It's not
really something that's been considered."

The UNH study, titled "To Test or Not to Test? Drug Testing Teachers,"
was published in the June issue of Teachers College Record.

Lead author Todd DeMitchell, professor of education at UNH, said a
random sampling of 500 superintendents was chosen. Of the 144
superintendents who responded, only six said they had mandatory drug
testing of teachers prior to employment.

Two superintendents said their school districts conduct random drug
testing among currently employed teachers.

Only one school district had implemented both pre-employment drug
testing and random drug testing of current employees.

This seems, however, to fly in the face of their beliefs.

Of the superintendents who took part in the study, 70 percent said
that student safety outweighs a teacher's right to privacy and 71
percent said that teachers hold "safety sensitive" positions, meaning
a momentary lapse of judgment could have disastrous

DeMitchell said the most common reasons superintendents gave for
opting not to implement drug-testing policies is that they don't feel
it is an issue among their staff.

"They don't see it as a problem and they don't see (drug testing) as
effective," DeMitchell said.

One superintendent wrote: "I do not believe in doing something just
for the sake of doing it. There needs to be a problem before we act."

Of the superintendents polled, 85 percent said they do not believe
drugs are a problem with their educators. And only 22 percent said
they believed drug testing would be an effective means for combating
drugs in schools.

Some superintendents in smaller school districts reported that they
were hesitant about forcing colleagues they know personally to urinate
in a cup, DeMitchell said.

DeMitchell said superintendents might be more likely propose a
drug-testing policy after a teacher is arrested for possession of an
illegal substance. In the districts that do test, marijuana and
cocaine were the drugs tested for most often.

Deb Woelflein, assistant superintendent of the Merrimack School
District, said it has never been brought up because there have never
been any issues that have sparked the conversation.

The district does criminal background checks, fingerprinting and makes
phone calls to references and previous districts to make sure people
hired don't have any issues.

"We feel we do a pretty good screening," she said.

DeMitchell said the study was in response to two federal court
decisions that upheld drug testing of teachers, ruling that it does
not violate their privacy rights as outlined in the Fourth Amendment
of Constitution.

A 1998 decision upheld a policy of pre-employment drug testing of
teachers. And another decision in 2004 upheld drug-testing teachers
randomly and without suspicion.

DeMitchell said the decisions opened what was thought to be a "policy
window" for school districts to institute similar policies. However,
as they study showed, a vast majority of superintendents have not
chosen to do so, he said.

The study differentiated between pre-employment drug testing and
random drug testing of current teachers, asking superintendents
whether they would be more likely to support one over the other.

Superintendents, for the most part, were more likely to support drug
testing prior to employment than random drug testing; 48 percent
supported pre-employment testing and only 35 percent supported random

Superintendents who opposed random drug-testing policies said it
creates an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion, constitutes an
invasion of privacy and could be too costly.

In the open response section, one superintendent wrote that drug
testing would be a fundamental violation of basic privacy rights. The
superintendent added: "What would be next - a political litmus test to
make sure we are all radical conservatives or Nazis?"

Those who supported random drug testing argued that it would make the
school safer and would only strengthen a zero-tolerance policy for
drug use.

DeMitchell said that it did not appear that the presence of a teachers
union factored into whether there was support for drug testing. But if
drug-testing policies were to be proposed, unions may show some
resistance, he said.

"If there is going to be a fight over this issue (in a community),
unions will more than likely lead the way," he said.

Bob Sherman, president of the Nashua Teachers Union, said teachers are
not drug tested in Nashua and he couldn't recall the issue ever being
raised. Unless administration has just cause, he said he doesn't see
the need for it.

"I know all teachers have to go through background checks," he said.
"I feel like that's sufficient."

School administrators in Milford and Hudson said there is no drug
testing done of teachers, but as in Merrimack, there are criminal
backgrounds checks and other measures taken.

DeMitchell had worked on a similar study looking at the issue of drug
testing student athletes, cheerleaders and those involved in other
extracurricular activities.

The Supreme Court has upheld the rights of school districts to conduct
random drug tests of students involved in extracurricular activities.
But DeMitchell said the Supreme Court has not weighed in on drug
testing of teachers.

The study was co-authored by Stephen Kossakoski and Tony Baldasaro,
administrators with SAU 16 in Exeter. Baldasaro is also a doctoral
student of education at UNH. 
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