Source: Bergen Record Contact: 23 Nov 1997 Author: JOHN MOONEY, Staff Writer Website: http://www.bergen.com/ Feedback: http://www.bergen.com/cgibin/feedback N.J. SCHOOL BOARDS GROUP BACKS DRUG TESTING FOR ALL Worried about increased drug use among schoolchildren, New Jersey's school board leaders gave a loud vote of support Saturday for local districts to do random drug tests not only on their athletes but all students. In a largely symbolic act, delegates to the New Jersey School Boards Association overwhelmingly backed a policy resolution that supports random drug testing in schools where substance abuse is determined to be a significant problem. More than a halfdozen districts including Ridgefield Park and North Bergen have sought to test their athletes at random. The original resolution referred only to the testing of athletes, but a majority of the nearly 200 school board members gathered at their semiannual assembly in Princeton chose not to stop with just the sports teams. "That discriminates against the athletes," said Neal Rosen, an East Brunswick trustee who proposed extending the resolution. "A serious drug problem is a schoolwide problem, a districtwide problem." Few expect school districts to start imposing the tests following the vote, because the assembly's action only sets the policies of the statewide association in its lobbying and other advocacy efforts. For any such testing to proceed, the courts most likely would have the final say over whether it would violate constitutional privacy rights. Ridgefield Park's program faces such a legal challenge and is currently being blocked by a Superior Court judge, with hearings scheduled for spring. "But this puts it right out there," said Robert Boose, the school board association's executive director. "It gets people to go back to their districts and look at what they are doing." The subject of drug testing was clearly a highly charged one for many of those at the assembly. Several trustees stepped to the microphones to decry what they saw as a worsening problem in their schools. "You are losing the war on drugs," said Gary Moore, a Deptford trustee and 22year policeman who has served as a drug awareness officer in schools. "Actually, you've almost lost it." One trustee told of a fifthgrader who died of a heroin overdose. Another said the problem demands a "total war. Half steps are not enough." The resolution faced little dissent. Jim Dougherty, a Lindenwold trustee, said he supported testing athletes but not all students. "Public education is a right of all children, and in exercising that right, they should not be subjected to the random testing," he said. Ironically, Ridgefield Park's representative also opposed the measure, largely because of the way it was worded. The resolution from the school board in Gloucester County's Washington Township recommended that random drug tests of athletes be supported "when the district demonstrated a special need," referring to the U.S. Supreme Court's 1995 opinion that made a similar stipulation in permitting testing of athletes. Ridgefield Park has sought to test its students without such a condition, and trustee Tom Blumenthal told the delegates that they should refrain from such legal points in their policies. "What happened here is the association is taking a litigation standpoint as opposed to being a political organization," he said. "We are a policymaking, political body." In other action, the delegates pressed the state to take steps to minimize the chances of criminals to work in schools. The assembly passed a resolution asking the statewide association to lobby for legislation that would allow districts to conduct preliminary background checks on new hires through police departments. The resolution follows a September report in The Record that about 3,400 public school employees hired in New Jersey since 1987 had criminal records ranging from drug possession to murder. The criminals were eventually dismissed after the required background checks through the state Department of Education were completed, but such checks can take as long as six months. Copyright 1997 Bergen Record Corp.