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New York District Plans To Test All Job Seekers for Drugs

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Four months after New York State's highest court struck down one of the nation's only drug-test policies involving practicing teachers, the school board that suffered the defeat has responded by adopting a new testing policy that it believes will pass constitutional muster.

Under the revised plan, applicants for all jobs in the Patchogue-Medford school district, including volunteer positions, will be required to submit a urine sample for drug analysis as a condition of employment or placement.

Teachers' union officials and other observers said last week that they knew of no other district that had proposed testing all job applicants for drug use. But several noted that some districts had ordered such tests for employees whose jobs directly involve students' safety, such as bus drivers and security guards.

The new policy in the New York State district is "appropriate and proper," said Leonard Cooper, a lawyer for the district, because it focuses on job applicants, who will be given prior notice of the procedure, rather than district employees, who were given no warning under the previous policy.

"We think this is legal," Mr. Cooper said, noting that a similar testing program for prospective subway workers in New York City had been upheld by the courts.

But Norman Siegel, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, disagreed. "We think this 'round two' is also unconstitutional," he said.

"Drug testing may not be imposed as a condition or precondition of em8ployment," Mr. Siegel argued. "It's a violation of privacy rights. It's unfair. And it's a political hoax."

Last June, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled that the district's policy requiring "blanket" testing of all probationary teachers violated provisions in both the federal and state constitutions prohibiting unreasonable searches and seizures. (See Education Week, June 17, 1987.)

A district may not require teachers to submit to drug testing, the court stated, unless it has "reasonable suspicion" that they actually use illegal drugs.

Tests for Some Employees

In addition to testing all job applicants under its new policy, the district will also test employees who are suspected of using drugs, Mr. Cooper said. He added that the poliel10lcy carefully defines what the district considers to be grounds for ordering that a teacher, or any other school employee, submit to testing.

Mr. Cooper said the district was determined to have in place some legally acceptable form of drug screening.

"We have a very aggressive curriculum on drug abuse," he said, "and to be consistent with that it is necessary for us to have as near to a drug-free environment as is humanly possible."

Mr. Siegel, however, insisted that drug testing is not the answer.

"If the applicant can perform on the job, then that person's activities at a Friday night party or on vacation should not be the concern of the employer," he said.

"People in positions of authority recognize there is a drug problem and want to appear to be doing4something about it," he added. "Well, this is not the thing to be doing."

Both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers oppose the testing of teachers for drug use. This past summer, nea members voted to fight the use of drug testing for teacher applicants.

The Patchogue-Medford Congress of Teachers, an affiliate of the aft, filed the lawsuit that blocked the district from testing probationary teachers.

Although local union officials remain opposed to any blanket drug testing, they say the union may have its hands tied with regard to the new policy.

"I have a problem with it," said Daniel Galinson, a lawyer for the union. "But I don't think we would be able to intervene [in court] on behalf of someone who is not a union member or an employee of the district."

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