Drug Testing Teachers: Testing Positive or Negative?

Drug Testing Teachers: Testing Positive or Negative?
With growing concerns about the backgrounds of teachers, some parents and experts are calling for instructors to undergo random drug testing. Are drug tests appropriately necessary or a violation of privacy?
Drug testing has been commonplace in professions that require critical decision making skills, ranging from police officers to civil servants.  A growing number of individuals also believe that the people who spend the most time with our children should also be subject to random testing of this kind. Teachers have come under the gun in recent years over the issue of random drug testing. While some parents and education experts believe random testing is necessary to keep schools as safe as possible, teachers believe these tests to be a gross violation of their privacy rights. Which side is right? We'll see both side of the issue in this article.

Why Drug Testing?

In numerous states, questions have arisen over whether teachers in public schools should undergo random drug testing as a part of their employment. The practice is common with other professionals, and some believe teachers fall into a similar category because they work directly with students all day long. They argue that teachers who fail random drug tests could either be fired on the spot or sent for drug counseling when appropriate. This idea is supported by some in Congress, as well as parents who are concerned about the adults supervising their children throughout the school day.

What's the Problem?
However, drug use does not appear to be a prevalent problem among public school teachers. According to a major study conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services in 2007 and reported in a Time article, public educators ranked 18 out of 19 in professionals who use illicit drugs. The Time article also stated that only four percent of teachers have reported using illegal drugs, compared to 14% of construction workers that deal with dangerous equipment and conditions on a daily basis.
If the numbers are correct, it does appear that random testing would cost school districts a significant amount of money and bring relatively little return for the efforts. By some estimates, the cost for a single random drug test could run anywhere from $40 to $55. If random testing was performed throughout the year, it could easily cost school districts thousands of dollars each school year. This is money that would have to be taken from other education spending – at a time when budgets are already fairly tight around the country.
Another issue with random testing is the violation of the teacher's privacy. Some are concerned that the drug test will reveal prescription medications the teacher is currently taking, or even a pregnancy status that has not yet been announced to school administrators. While nearly all agree that a teacher who is behaving erratically or causing concern should succumb to a drug test, the idea of randomly testing teachers who are not under suspicion is not acceptable to most educators and teachers' unions.
No Testing in Virginia, Despite Pot Possession
A recent report at CBS 6 shows that Virginia teachers are not subject to random drug testing. In fact, the district has never considered implementing such a program – until a teacher and security officer at Osbourn High School faced charges of marijuana possession. While the schools may take another look at the idea of random testing in light of these charges, the possibility of implementing such a program may still be slim, due to the high costs the districts would accrue. Al Radford, spokesman for Manassas City Schools, said the random testing would cost districts approximately $55,000 a year.
Hawaii and Missouri Consider Drug Testing
The Washington Times reports that both Missouri and Hawaii are looking at the option of random drug tests for their teachers. In Missouri, the House Education Committee is considering a bill that would require districts to test teachers for drug use. Missouri state representative Don Wells, who introduced the bill, told the Times, "Why should a school employee not be tested? After all, police officers, factory workers and people in most other industries can be randomly tested for drug use."
In Hawaii, former Governor Linda Lingle pushed for the random drug testing after six teachers were arrested on unrelated drug cases. Last year, the Hawaii State Teachers Association and the Department of Education signed an agreement to implement the testing program in exchange for an 11% pay increase for all teachers. However, teachers in the state are still fighting the idea of random testing, and the case has gone to the circuit court, where it is still awaiting a ruling.
While it is true that teachers are entrusted with the safety of students on a daily basis, the necessity and practicality of random drug testing continues to be debated. With courts that tend to side on both sides of the issue, there is doubt that this debate will be resolved on a national level any time soon. 
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