A growing number of school districts and states are proposing policies that require teachers and support staff to take random drug tests, citing student safety concerns, but their efforts are running afoul of unions who say such tests violate privacy rights.
For example, Hawaii adopted a policy allowing teachers to be randomly tested, but implementation was stalled after the teachers union sued to block the policy as unconstitutional. Elsewhere, attempts to implement random testing are facing court challenges, with teacher groups, unions and civil libertarians invoking the Fourth Amendment that guarantees protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.
Supporters say teachers and other school staff need to be tested for drug use because of a safety issue: children spend most of their waking hours in the company of teachers. Opponents of teacher drug testing say mandates such as ongoing, random tests are unnecessary, expensive and invasive.
Would random drug testing be expensive? Most assuredly. Could the results produce false positives and thus false accusations of drug abuse? Of course. Would dependents switch to other drugs such as alcohol to avoid detection? Possibly. Would the random tests make a marked difference in improving school safety and school instruction? Don't know for sure.
Besides invasion of privacy, cost and other seemingly apparent valid reasons not to test, I wonder what the bottom line is. Like most issues, reading between the lines is very important. Who, in their right mind, could deny the tremendous responsibility given to school teachers and support staff?
Don't We All Believe the Following?
Teachers and other school employees should be held to a higher standard than most other employees.
They deal with impressionable, vulnerable young people. These employees must set a very good example for students as they stand in loco parentis (in the place of a parent).
People who abuse drugs should not be teachers. We entrust teachers with the immense responsibility of helping form the thoughts and opinions of our children. People who are under the influence of drugs are obviously not thinking with clear minds. Their behavior could be tainted when dealing with our children in the classroom.
In fact, public school employees use government/taxpayer money and are in a union so they shouldn't be any different than private industries. Since they are using taxpayer money and are not a private industry the penalties should be harsher.
The Bottom Line (As I See It)
To me, the real problem many people have with the random drug testing of school employees is marijuana. Many adults regard the occasional use of cannabis as acceptable behavior, much like social or occasional drinking of alcohol. Without a doubt, many teachers and other staff do engage in smoking marijuana. Drug testing would likely expose the extent of this negative behavior.
Of course, some favor marijuana as a drug for pain treatment. Statistics (Gallup) say that 70% of American voters support medical marijuana. Surely, some school employees are prescribed medical marijuana.
Support for legalizing marijuana is directly and inversely proportional to age, ranging from 62% approval among those 18 to 29 down to 31% among those 65 and older.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), "Marijuana is the most commonly abused illicit drug in the United States." The National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2009 found that "16.7 million Americans aged 12 or older used marijuana at least once in the month prior to being surveyed, an increase over the rates reported in all years between 2002 and 2008." (Monitoring the Future (MTF) Survey, 2010)
According to NIDA, daily Marijuana use increased among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders from 2009 to 2010. Among 12th graders it was at its highest point since the early 1980s at 6.1%. Marijuana use is now ahead of cigarette smoking on some measures (due to decreases in smoking and recent increases in marijuana use). In 2010, 21.4 percent of high school seniors used marijuana in the past 30 days, while 19.2 percent smoked cigarettes.
Besides the concern over finding cannabis use in school employee drug tests, the public also fears that the detection of alcohol consumption could eventually be used to punish and fire people. We all know alcohol is a legal drug governed by certain age limits and other legal restrictions. So, is the thinking that the government will eventually "come down" on alcohol just a slippery slope or a reality?
Well, most pot proponents say, "Compared to alcohol, marijuana is astonishingly safe." These people (www.saferchoice.org) claim marijuana is much less addictive than alcohol, with just nine percent of users becoming dependent, as opposed to 15 percent for booze.
And marijuana is much less toxic than heavy drinking. Heavy drinking is well-documented to damage the brain and liver, and to increase the risk of many types of cancer. Proponents (NORML) love to say, "No one has ever died from using marijuana."
But, research shows that the two major risks of excessive marijuana use are: (1) respiratory disease due to smoking and (2) accidental injuries due to impairment. Studies by the Kaiser Permanente Center found that daily pot users have a 30% higher risk of injuries, presumably from accidents.
These figures are significant, though not as high as comparable risks for heavy drinkers or tobacco addicts. That pot can cause accidents is scarcely surprising, since marijuana has been shown to degrade short-term memory, concentration, judgment, and coordination at complex tasks including driving.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2012) say 50.9% of adults 18 years of age and over are current regular drinkers of alcohol (at least 12 drinks in the past year), and 13.6% of adults 18 years of age and over are current infrequent drinkers (1-11 drinks in the past year).
About one-fifth of the populace is classified as "binge drinkers" and about seven percent listed as "heavy drinkers." (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2006)
Binge drinking is considered having five or more drinks one occasion at least once in the past 30 days. According to the survey results, 23 percent, or about 57 million people over age 12, met that definition.
Heavy drinking is considered binge drinking five or more times a month. The 2006 NSDUH survey indicated that an estimated 6.9 percent of the population, about 17 million people over age 12, were heavy drinkers.
And how about the scary statistics on youth drinking? For young adults, between the ages of 18 and 25, the rate of binge drinking and heavy drinking is almost double that of the general population. In 2006, the rate of binge drinking in this group was 42.2 percent and the rate of heavy drinking was 15.6 percent.
The survey also showed that the rate of binge drinking in adolescent drinkers -- those ages 12 to 17 -- is about 10.3 percent, with the percentage of heavy drinkers at 2.4 percent. All of these rates are basically unchanged from the 2005 NSDUH results.
There is no denying that alcohol is commonly accepted as the number one drug problem in America, and more than 12 million people in the U.S. are alcoholics.
And, how many teachers are currently using opiates? Very few you say? You may want to research this because "high times" have surely changed. According to the United Nations World Drug Report, 2008, in any given year, 0.6 percent of Americans between the ages of 15 and 64 use opiates.
Each year the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration releases its National Survey on Drug Use and Health that reports the prevalence of illicit drug use in the US population age 12 or older. The growth in the use of opiates, specifically heroin and pain relievers, has been dramatic. In the nine years since 2002, among the drugs showing the largest “lifetime” growth in users were pain relievers at +17.4% over 2002 and heroin at +12.5% over 2002.
“Monthly” usage of heroin at +44% and pain relievers at +16.5% grew the most quickly over their 2002 respective user populations. There were an estimated 5.1 million users of illicit pain relievers in 2010, over 700,000 more than in 2002.
Here is a list of the commonly abused opiates:
My take is that the fuss over teachers and school staff taking random drug tests relates less to Fourth Amendment rights than to the detection of the use of (1) marijuana, (2) alcohol, and (3) opiates. Hell, I bet most Constitution thumpers don't even know how the Fourth Amendment reads. Just for educational purposes, here it is:
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
Did that text help with the issue of drug testing school employees? The constitutionality of drug testing, the United States Supreme Court has said, depends upon the "reasonableness" of the employee drug testing in that situation.
What is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment depends upon the specific facts and circumstances of each drug testing case. Unfortunately for everyone involved in drug testing, the definition of "reasonableness" has evolved over the years and continues to evolve by decisions concerning individual employee drug testing laws and cases.
There is no constitutional prohibition or drug testing laws against private individuals or organizations conducting or requiring what would otherwise be unreasonable drug testing for conditions of employment or other similar reason. For example, a private employer may require an employee to submit to random drug testing as a requirement of continued employment even if that employee has never had any history of using drugs and is not currently suspected of using drugs. Employee drug testing laws and constitutional rights will not protect him (much).
As an ex-teacher, I am sure of one thing: Clear-thinking, responsible parents want school employees to report ANY and EVERY occurrence of their child's using, distributing, or buying drugs of any kind. (In fact, most parents want to know of any signs of drug abuse.) Why? Because schools must be drug-free environments for the safety of all children. The drug-free zone laws put a restricted area around schools where higher penalties await those accused of drug crimes.
Parents demand that schools inform them of all problems with drug abuse. Whether the child involved with drugs is theirs or whether the child involved with drugs is another person who poses a threat to their child, parents do not waver about their right to know. These parents will storm the school waving hangman's nooses if they believe a drug problem has been covered up by school officials.
Do you see where I'm going with this? The final question becomes transparency. Does it benefit the student body to be served by an administration that has taken a REASONABLE precaution to insure their adult employees abide by the same guidelines expected to be followed by their young students?
Are national statistics reason enough for PROBABLE CAUSE? In certain areas such as Scioto County, which is caught in the grips of a drug abuse epidemic, do the circumstances tip the "scale of cause" towards "YES"?
"Seize me! Search me! Let me pee in a cup!" I say.... "UNLESS I'm drunk, rolling lots of killer weed and popping 80s.... Then, by the good grace of the Fourth, the Union, and the ACLU, tell the kids that recess is over. Today's lesson, class -- the Bill of Rights."