Pubdate: Sun, 25 May 2014
Source: Express-Times, The (PA)
Copyright: 2014 The Express-Times


If the Bangor Area School District doesn't have a compelling case for
random drug testing of teachers, who does? If the heroin overdose
death of a teacher and the conviction of an assistant wrestling coach
for sharing drugs with students are not grounds to ensure that
educators are clean and sober in the classroom, what is?

Last week Bangor teachers voted overwhelmingly, 163-30, to reject
random drug testing under a policy proposed by the school board. The
outcome was not unexpected, but still, it's disappointing. Bangor
could have become the first Pennsylvania district in which teachers
stepped up to show this commitment to a drug-free school system.

Union president Kevin Lilly said the majority of teachers considered
the proposal an unconstitutional foray into their private lives,
raising fears of false-positive tests for over-the-counter or
prescribed medicine that would lead to disruption, demoralization and
inevitable lawsuits.

A healthy defense of the Fourth Amendment is one thing. When it comes
to government intrusion into citizens' privacy, no one should yield
anything lightly.

And along the same lines, we don't subscribe to the "if it saves just
one life" approach to curing every social ill. If you follow that
road, you end up placing all of society in a straitjacket and
bankrupting everyone in the name of minimizing risk.

Yet Bangor teachers should have taken this step -- and they should
reconsider their opposition when the issue comes up again.

The purpose of staff drug testing is not to invade people's personal
lives or dictate alcohol consumption. It is to prevent the effects of
drug and/or alcohol abuse from seeping into the educational process,
to ensure that employees who need help get it promptly and
confidentially, to get their careers back on track. And to get chronic
abusers -- those who involve or encourage student participation, as
happened in Bangor -- out of the system before they affect others.

Bangor teachers argue that the existing practice -- drug-testing new
hires and staffers who exhibit symptoms of substance abuse -- is adequate.

The heroin overdose of teacher Gina Riso exposes that deceit, along
with the conviction of assistant wrestling coach Brad Washburn for
smoking marijuana and swapping pills with students -- compelling
testimony that pre-employment and "for cause" tests don't add up to an
intervention strategy. And given the current epidemic of prescription
drug abuse that can lead people to heroin -- some of whom descend into
addiction from legitimate drug therapy -- school districts have a
vested interest in acting to counter this behavior before it shows up
as a personal and institutional crisis.

Two groups are already demonstrating how random drug testing can work.
For the last year, Bangor school administrators have been submitting
to random urinalysis. Good for them for leading the way.

Many districts in New Jersey -- and now, with a landmark court ruling
this year, Pennsylvania as well -- are requiring high school students
to undergo random testing. Courts have held that districts may order
drug tests for students who participate in sports and other
extracurricular activities, as well as those who apply for parking

Bangor isn't alone in considering drug testing. In recent years
Easton, Bethlehem, Northampton and Saucon Valley school boards have
talked about testing programs for staff; most settled for
pre-employment screening. In an era when public safety and
transportation employees, professional athletes and high school
students routinely undergo testing, public school teachers should be
stepping up to hold themselves accountable, rather than using their
collective-bargaining power to resist.
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