District's Anti-Alcohol Policy Labeled Overly Harsh
A new anti-drug and alcohol policy for employees of the Fairfax County, Va., school district has come under attack from teachers and the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union as being too harsh.
Under a regulation issued by Superintendent of Schools Robert F. Spillane's office last month, district employees can lose their jobs if they are found to have any trace of alcohol or an illegal substance in their systems when they report to work or attend a school event, regardless of where the substance was consumed.
As a result, critics charge, a teacher who has a glass of wine with dinner and then returns to school for a parent-teacher conference in the evening, for example, could be dismissed.
The school board was expected to review the policy--and possibly to ask the district's administration to alter it--at its meeting late last week. The board voted last summer to adopt an anti-drug policy and authorized the administration to draft a regulation to implement it.
District officials said they adopted the policy to comply with the federal Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988. That law requires employers, including schools, to certify that they have a drug-free workplace as a prerequisite to receiving federal funds.
But observers said the Fairfax regulation is unusual because it covers alcohol, a legal substance for adults that is not cited in the federal law, and because it restricts employees' activities outside the workplace.
Under the regulation, no employee can report to work "with alcohol, illegal drugs, unlawful prescription drugs, or drug metabolites in his or her system."
"Upon reasonable suspicion of a violation," the policy states, the district will require an employee to submit to a breathalyzer or a drug test. Employees can be fired for a first offense, or if they refuse to be tested.
Employees who are called in to work during a time outside regular work hours and who have alcohol in their system must inform their supervisor that they have had a drink.
In a letter to the district, Kevin M. Boyle, an official with the Fairfax Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Associ8ation, said, "The overbreadth of this regulation invades the legitimate privacy rights of educators and, at a minimum, takes the very un-American approach of subjecting everyone to potential mistreatment rather than identifying and dealing with specific problems as they occur."
He and other union officials, as well as the aclu, said the regulation gives too much discretion to school officials who, in some cases, might use its provisions to discriminate against an out-of-favor employee.
Stephen B. Pershing, the aclu's legal director, said his organization may file a suit against the regulation, which he said "appears to have serious constitutional flaws.
But Edward W. Carr, the district's assistant superintendent for personnel services, said the district "would have to have reasonable suspicion to test anyone."
"It would not be at the whim of an administrator who would have it out for a teacher," Mr. Carr said.
"We're only dealing with the consumption of alcohol as it may impact job performance," he said. "If you are going to a pta meeting at night, it's not wise to have a couple of glasses of wine before."
Vol. 09, Issue 15