Source:   Bergen Record
Contact:    23 Nov 1997
Author:   JOHN MOONEY, Staff Writer


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

"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.