Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Proposal to impose drug screening on school districts raises concerns

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

TOPEKA, KAN. — Legislation that would require school districts to test employees for drugs if they are suspected of illegal drug use came in for intense questioning from some education officials on Monday.

In addition to drug screening, Senate Bill 335 would require teachers to submit fingerprints for background checks.

State Sen. Greg Smith, R-Overland Park, said the proposals would help "provide a safe learning environment for our students."

He pointed to a national report that said 10 percent of students are victims of sexual abuse by school personnel sometime during their school career.

Education officials didn't oppose the fingerprint background checks, saying that new applicants for a teaching license and those renewing a lapsed license already submit their fingerprints.

And the State Board of Education is considering a rule change that would ultimately result in files for all licensed educators' fingerprints, according to Marjorie Blaufuss, an attorney with the Kansas National Education Association.

But Blaufuss and Mark Tallman, associate executive director of the Kansas Association of School Boards, raised numerous concerns about the proposed drug screening of school employees.

Under the bill, all drug tests will be sent to the State Board of Education where a hiring school district would be able to access the test results.

Blaufuss said that raised concerns about whether a drug test would let a potential employer know about a teacher's use of a legally prescribed drug for a physical or mental disability. Divulging that information is illegal under the Americans with Disabilities Act, she said.

Tallman raised several questions, including whether the bill required drug testing or allowed school districts to put in place drug screening policies. Blaufuss and Tallman said their organizations were taking a neutral position on the bill at this point.

The committee took no action, but said it would study the issue further.

According to the Lawrence school district, an employee who has violated the district's drug-free schools policy may face a range of punishments from required participation in drug or alcohol testing and treatment to termination.