FORMER CHEROKEE COUNTY TEACHER SUES OVER DRUG TEST POLICY FOR SCHOOL EMPLOYEES
A former Cherokee County Spanish teacher has brought suit against the Graham County school system to prevent it from implementing random drug testing of all school employees.
The North Carolina Association of Educators filed the lawsuit on behalf of Susan Jones, who now teaches at Robbinsville High School. Jones previously taught Spanish at Hiwassee Dam High School in Cherokee County.
The suit states that the drug testing policy violates state constitutional principles against discrimination and searches without evidence.
Graham County Superintendent of Schools Rick Davis said the purpose of the policy, which will take effect July 1, is to ensure a drug free and and safe work environment. He said he believes that Graham County would be the first school system in North Carolina to randomly drug test all school employees.
While private companies can drug test its employees, governments can only test employees suspected of drug use or those with safety sensitive jobs. School bus drivers' jobs are considered safety sensitive and bus drivers are drug tested across the United States.
In its new policy, the Graham County School Board classified all positions in the school system as "safety sensitive positions". The policy states that the classification was made "due to the fact that these positions require work where an inattention to duty or error in judgement will have the potential for significant risk or harm to those entrusted to their care, and the possibility or probability of contact with students and the influence employees have could cause irreparable damage to the health and well being of the students."
Cherokee County School official Terelle Beaver said Cherokee County doesn't have plans to implement a policy of drug testing all employees.
"This was visited several years ago when we thought we wanted to test coaches," she said. "We saw that if we implemented it, it would not be random testing but would be for new hires."
However, the policy has never been adopted. The only school employees who are drug tested are bus drivers.
Davis said the Graham County Board of Education adopted the policy on December 5.
The first random testing will involve 25 percent of school employees soon after school begins in August, Davis said. The plan is to test 25 percent of employees four times a year.
"Theoretically, that would reach 100 percent of the employees, but some employees may be randomly chosen for the test every time," Davis said.
Davis said Graham County has pre-employment testing, whereby a job applicant recommended by the board must submit a negative test. Student athletes have been randomly tested for several years.
When asked about the chances of a successful suit against the school board, Davis said, "That is entirely up to the court system. We will wait and see."
Davis said that the Knott County, KY and the Knox County, TN school systems have policies for randomly testing all school employees. The policies in those counties were upheld in Circuit Court, Davis said.
Keystone Laboratories, from Asheville, will implement the random selection of employees and procedures for collection.
Any Graham County employee who is found to have a detectable amount of an illegal drug or of alcohol will get a letter of reprimand and will be offered a one-time opportunity to enter and successfully complete a rehabilitation program. The employee will be placed on approved leave without pay for up to six months for rehabilitation. Then, the school superintendent will decide whether to reinstate the employee. The superintendent will recommend to the school board whether to reinstate the employee.
Rep. Roger West has stated that the state should consider random drug testing for all its schools. [/FONT]