Thursday, August 25, 2011

Testing teachers for drug use

In the tiny central-Illinois town of Glasford, teachers are on strike over their school district’s insistence that they submit to random drug tests. That’s random testing, without cause. No school district in the state has such a policy. A statement from the Illini Bluffs Federation of Teachers suggests that the drug-test proposal is a ploy to force union concessions on other matters. (We’ll drop the outrageous insistence on X, if you’ll give up Y.)

The Belleville News-Democrat, which the Illinois Federation of Teachers characterizes as a strongly anti-union newspaper, is taking a poll on the matter. If you, like me, think that teachers should not be subject to random drug testing (testing without cause), you might want to put your 2¢ in by voting. Click on the link, and you’ll find the poll to the left, under a photograph of a room full of empty desks.

8:08 p.m.: In 2009, a West Virginia school board abandoned a similar effort. The ACLU has the details and adds context:

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the government may only conduct suspicionless drug tests of employees in “safety-sensitive” job roles, such as air traffic controllers or nuclear power plant operators, whose job functions, if done improperly, would cause specific and potentially catastrophic threats to the public safety.

The court firmly rejected the contention that public school employees meet the criteria for random drug testing: “A train, nuclear reactor, or firearm in the hands of someone on drugs presents an actual concrete risk to numerous people — the same cannot be said for a teacher wielding a history textbook.”

In addition to violating public employees’ constitutional right to privacy, random drug testing programs have been found demonstrably ineffective by the National Academy of Sciences, among others, producing a false sense of security that distracts from true safety threats.

Random drug testing may also reveal extremely sensitive personal information, such as medical conditions, prescription drug use or pregnancy, and can produce an unacceptably high rate of false-positives.
Update, September 1, 2011: The strike has been settled. It sounds as though random testing is not part of the contract:
Neither side has disclosed details of the tentative agreement. Board attorney Karl Meurlot said drug testing remains in the agreement that the teachers ratified on Monday, but that it is “substantially different than [from] the random drug testing policy the board initially proposed.” He did not elaborate.

Illini Bluffs students get back to school after strike ends (Peoria Journal Star)
Update, September 2, 2011: For current teachers, the contract allows voluntary participation in random drug testing and requires drug testing when there is probable cause. But for teachers hired after August 15, 2011, random drug tests will be required. Read more:

Illini Bluffs teachers contract includes voluntary drug testing (Peoria Journal Star)

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