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New Rule Says Grant Recipients Must Be Drug Free

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Washington--Most state agencies and many school districts that receive federal aid will be required to certify that their workplaces are free of illegal drugs, under new federal rules that take effect March 18.

In addition, individual recipients of federal grants--including students with Pell Grants--will have to certify that they do not use such drugs.

The penalty for violating the regulations could be suspension of a grant or placement on a list of people and organizations ineligible for federal aid.

The regulations, published in the Jan. 31 Federal Register, implement a provision of the 1988 omnibus anti-drug bill and apply to all federal agencies. The Office of Management and Budget will accept comments until April 3, and the rules could be altered. Even so, the regulations as proposed will go into effect next month.

The Education Department has decided that the rules apply only to education agencies that directly receive aid, Jim Bradshaw, a department spokesman, said last week.

That means that all state education agencies will be covered. But only those school districts that receive funds directly from the department, such as magnet-schools aid or bilingual-education grants, will be included, according to Mr. Bradshaw.

Districts receiving aid through Chapter 1 and other programs in which the money is distributed by states will not be affected, he said.

The rules require organizations that receive grants to notify employees through a published statement that they have a drug-free-workplace policy, which must include sanctions for employees caught with drugs. If an employee is convicted of an on-the-job drug offense, the employer must take "appropriate" action against him and inform the grant-making agency.

Employers must also launch "awareness programs" to inform employees of the dangers of drugs in the workplace, the employer's policy, and available treatment programs.

An organization would be subject to federal sanctions if it failed to comply with the paperwork requirements or to discipline an employee convicted of an on-the-job offense. Penalties could also be applied, the rules state, if "such a number of employees" were convicted "as to indicate that the grantee has failed to make a good-faith effort to provide a drug-free workplace."

The granting agency could then decide to revoke a grant or to place the grantee on the governmentwide "debarment" list, making the organization ineligible for most forms of federal aid.

The regulations make clear that conviction of an employee for an offense that occurred away from the workplace, or involvement in an incident that did not result in a legal conviction, would not trigger sanctions.

"I'm not sure [the new regulations are] such a big deal," Gwendolyn Gregory, associate general counsel for the National School Boards Association, said last week. "It's a good-faith-effort sort of thing, and there are technicalities that [districts] must know about."

"Most districts already have drug policies," she said, adding that all education agencies should ensure that their policies meet the new standards.

Ms. Gregory said she was pleased that the regulations state that drug testing is not required. But she expressed disappointment over the requirement that employees who know about an on-the-job drug conviction inform their employer.

"What if this happens in a school and everybody in the district knows about it? Do they all have to write letters?" she asked.

Still, "it could have been a lot worse," Ms. Gregory said.

The drug-free-workplace language first proposed in the Congress was considerably broader in scope. It did not require a conviction to trigger federal sanctions. Some observers said it could even be interpreted as allowing an agency to cut off aid to a school where one janitor was caught with drugs. (See Education Week, May 25, 1988.)

The language in the final version of the omnibus drug bill was much more narrowly drawn, and the regulations follow it closely.

Questions about the way in which the Education Department will ap4ply the rules to student-aid recipients seem likely to generate the most controversy and confusion.

The regulations require individuals who receive federal grants to certify that they "will not engage in the unlawful manufacture, distribution, dispensing, possession, or use of a controlled substance in conducting any activity with the grant."

Mr. Bradshaw said department officials have decided that the rules apply to Pell Grant recipients, who will have to sign a certification statement as part of the application process. But he said they had not determined whether such programs as Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants or work-study are covered.

And, according to Mr. Bradshaw, officials are still wrestling with some thorny questions about how to apply sanctions to Pell recipients who get in trouble with drugs.

Among the unresolved issues is whether sanctions would be triggered if a student is found guilty of any drug violation, on or off campus, or whether the offense must occur on campus or while a student is attending classes.

"If a student were caught, they could have their aid revoked," Mr. Bradshaw said. "But the steps we'll be taking to get to that point are a little fuzzy right now."

He said the department would issue a public statement when the policy is fleshed out.

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