School board discusses drug testing teachers

By BRIAN FERRY

bferry@timesobserver.com

In the wake of the arrest of a Warren County School District teacher accused of having a backpack full of drugs in school, the school board is looking for some drug testing of its staff.

Board member Jeff Labesky asked administration to discuss the possibility of random urinalysis with all of the bargaining units that represent district employees.

“What’s transpired in the last few weeks is extremely alarming,” Labesky said. “To think one out of 600-some is the only one doing it is pretty naive. It’s a good idea to start the dialog with the union.”

At last week’s special meeting, Labesky asked that a drug-testing discussion item be placed on the agenda for Monday.

In the meantime, administration and board members have looked at practices at nearby districts.

“There is not a school district around us that is currently random testing their employees,” board member Paul Mangione said.

Superintendent Amy Stewart said the districts in Intermediate Unit 5 do include one that has some level of testing. That district tests all of items employees except teachers. A number of districts also conduct pre-employment drug screening.

“Nobody that works for the district should be exempt,” Labesky said. “If one of the unions is requesting not to, I think there’s cause for concern.”

“We’ll seek out some options,” Stewart said. “We’ve also talked to our labor attorney. We do have some abilities within our current contract. We do have the ability to request medical evaluations.”

“I know the union may oppose this, but they shouldn’t,” Labesky said.

In a statement provided to the Times Observer by attorney Marcus Schlegel representing the Warren County Education Association, the union expressed a willingness to be tested, but not randomly.

“The Warren County Education Association is saddened for all who have been affected by the recent arrest of a middle school teacher for drug possession,” according to the statement. “Our hearts especially go out to the family members and students impacted. Our number one priority is student safety and we are relieved that there is currently no indication that any students were directly involved in the situation.”

“With regard to the Warren Area School District’s employee drug testing policy, we support the administration’s existing managerial right to require individuals to submit to drug testing should they have reason to believe there is a concern. A targeted, specific approach to concerns of suspected drug abuse avoids the liabilities of randomized testing which could unfairly malign innocent individuals with false positive results due to diet or supplements and compromise an individual’s HIPAA protections by disclosing medical conditions through legitimate, doctor-prescribed medications. As always, we will work with the administration on how best to keep our students safe.”

A parent addressed the board about the possibility of drug testing.

“In light of the huge opioid crisis in Pennsylvania, I don’t think your drug testing should be punitive to teachers,” Rebecca Dippold said. “I think drug testing should have some type of policy that lets teachers get some help.”

She said news coverage of the teacher’s arrest and arraignment was “sensationalized.”

“By putting that headline… it’s very upsetting to myself,” Dippold said. “I really hope you look at it as a disease so more people who do have a problem with addiction would be willing to come forward and not have the stigma attached.”

The discussion of testing teachers led to the possibility of testing students.

One of the districts in the intermediate unit started down a path of having mandatory drug testing for students, but gave that up, Stewart said.

Board members briefly discussed the possibility of a voluntary drug-testing process for students. The idea was a student who has successfully passed voluntary drug tests might be more employable than someone with more experience, but a volatile employment history. “I think that would give a kid a leg-up,” Mangione said.

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