Thursday, March 12, 2009

States (at least Missouri) entertain random drug testing of teachers

On Thursday, March 12, The Washington Times, in an apparently exclusive story by Vaishali Honawar, reports that the Missouri (The “Show-Me” state) legislature is considering requiring teachers to undergo random drug testing. It was not clear whether the testing would include substitutes. The title of the article is “Teacher reps fight random drug tests; schools adopt policy for safety”, link here.

It is not unusual for schools to require tests when there is cause (unusual teacher or student behavior), but random drug testing might lead to constitutional 4th Amendment challenges, although they are common in the military and some law enforcement jobs (other public sector jobs, that is). Some districts require a drug test at entry, along with other health tests, like tuberculosis exposure screening. (I don’t think HIV screening is done anywhere.)

Private employers were often doing random drug testing as recently as the early 1990s, but have tending to back down.

Drug testing may run into problems with false positives (heavy second-hand exposure to marijuana might rarely cause a reaction (as in someone else’s closed car or at a party), and nasal decongestants could cause positive tests for amphetamines) and false negatives (some novel substances are not detected). Employees under threat of random testing might have to be careful about accidental second hand exposure or use of non-prescription patent medicines, and even certain foods or herbs. Marijuana can be detected in the body for up to 30 days. Some tests, like hair tests, which could be invasive, can detect cocaine use any time in the past few years. Sometimes life insurance companies require hair tests before issuing large policies. Positive tests (like EMIT) can sometimes be checked by more specific tests (like chromatographs).

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