School workers' arrests highlight drug-test bill
Legislators are reacting to a rash of school worker drug incidents
The arrest of two public school custodians Friday for allegedly dealing ice comes as a bill to drug test public school employees is headed for a key hearing this week.
The arrests of a 50-year-old Kaimuki High School custodian and her boyfriend, a 46-year-old Nuuanu Elementary School custodian, brought the number of drug-related cases involving Department of Education employees to six in the past six months.
The incident happened a day after two House committees passed a bill that would require the DOE to drug test any public school employee who works close to children if there's reasonable suspicion that he or she is intoxicated.
A House Judiciary Committee will hear arguments on the measure, Senate Bill 96, on Tuesday.
While supporting the bill's intent, the Department of Education and the teachers union argue the proposal may not be needed because a similar policy is being discussed in contract negotiations.
Some employees of the DOE, such as bus drivers, already are tested for drugs, but others, like teachers, principals and custodians, are exempt, said department spokesman Greg Knudsen. However, he noted that all public school workers sign a contract agreeing that drugs and alcohol are prohibited on campus.
Drug tests for school employees sought
The legislation would require testing if a worker is suspected of intoxication
All public school employees who work close to children would be subject to drug testing if there's reasonable suspicion that they are intoxicated, under a bill moving through the Legislature.
The measure passed House education and labor committees last week and will be taken up by the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
Sen. Norman Sakamoto introduced Senate Bill 96 because of the recent arrests of teachers and school staff for allegedly using or dealing drugs.
On Friday, a 50-year-old Kaimuki High School custodian was arrested after police found crystal methamphetamine in her car. Police also arrested her boyfriend, a 46-year-old Nuuanu Elementary School custodian. Both face several drug-related charges.
The latest teacher incident involved 38-year-old Bronwyn Marie Kugle of Kaelepulu Elementary School. She was charged last month with conspiracy and drug charges stemming from a shipment of 990 tablets of the drug Ecstasy and 2.2 pounds of cocaine.
"If not for those cases, we would not be having these discussions," said Sakamoto (D, Salt Lake-Foster Village). "I want something to work as opposed to either being silent or not doing anything."
The bill, which originally sought criminal background checks for Department of Education employees, was amended to add random drug testing, Sakamoto said. But lawmakers have since removed the random testing portion with a requirement that reasonable suspicion be established before tests are done, he said.
The bill calls for the DOE to train supervisors on how to look for signs of drug use.
Other DOE employees, such as bus drivers, already are tested for drugs, but teachers, principals and custodians are exempt, said department spokesman Greg Knudsen. However, he noted that all public school workers sign a contract agreeing that drugs and alcohol are prohibited on the job.
An employee violating that provision would be subject to disciplinary action, which could include firing, Knudsen said. He said the custodians arrested would be placed on leave while the department investigates the case.
The department and the teachers' union support the intent of the drug-testing bill. But they have been telling legislators that it may not be needed because a similar policy is being discussed in ongoing contract negotiations.
Another point of debate is the cost of the test, Knudsen said, which can range from $20 for a simple saliva swab to $200 for a thorough lab exam.
The Hawaii State Teachers Association "has already included language in its contractual proposal for a drug-testing program designed to achieve the same ends as those set forth in the bill before us," HSTA President Roger Takabayashi told a House Education Committee at a hearing Wednesday, asking representatives to hold the bill.
But the bill survived, with only Rep. Joe Bertram, who deems the measure "problematic," voting no.
Bertram (D, Makena-Kihei) said that while the proposed law may help catch marijuana smokers, it could miss ice and cocaine users, as well as anyone abusing prescription medicine, because those drugs leave the bloodstream faster and often don't prompt suspicious signs such as red eyes.
He also echoed concerns by the American Civil Liberties Union that tests could violate people's rights if the school can't show there is a direct link between drug use and impaired job performance.
"They want your pee, they want your spit, you know? People need to be left alone with their personal lives unless it impacts their jobs," Bertram said, hoping legal issues will stop the bill at the judiciary hearing. "There's no study, there's no numbers, nothing to show how illegal drug use is affecting kids."
Custodians arrested on drug charges probed for possible on-campus dealing
Police are investigating whether a Kaimuki High School custodian arrested Friday on drug charges also sold drugs at the school.
The 50-year-old woman was arrested at Kaimuki High School, where she works as a custodian.
Police also arrested the woman's 46-year-old boyfriend at Nuuanu Elementary School, where he works as a custodian, according to Department of Education spokesman Greg Knudsen.
Both face several drug-related charges.
Police searched the couple's home on George Street in Kapahulu and allegedly found crystal methamphetamine.
Police said they found more drugs and drug paraphernalia in the woman's car at Kaimuki High School.
The woman was arrested at 7:30 a.m. and booked on charges of three counts of promoting dangerous drugs as a third-degree felony, two counts of possession of drug paraphernalia, one count of promoting detrimental drugs as a petty misdemeanor, and one count of promoting dangerous drugs as a second-degree felony.
Police arrested the woman's boyfriend about an hour later on four counts of promoting dangerous drugs, two counts of possession of drug paraphernalia and promoting detrimental drugs.
Both remain in custody, but have not yet been formally charged, police said.
Knudsen said the department will conduct its own investigation at the schools, and both custodians were put on administrative leave pending the results.
If either is found to have sold drugs on the campus, he or she could face an additional charge of promoting drugs on or near a school, which could mean additional prison time of up to 10 years, according to state law.
There have been six Department of Education employees arrested in drug investigations in the past six months:
March 2007: A 50-year-old Kaimuki High School custodian is arrested after police found crystal methamphetamine or "ice" in her car. Police also arrested her boyfriend, a 46-year-old Nuuanu Elementary School custodian. Both face several drug-related charges.
February 2007: Bronwyn Marie Kugle, 38, a Kaelepulu Elementary School teacher, is charged with conspiracy and drug charges stemming from a shipment of 990 tablets of the drug Ecstasy and 2.2 pounds of cocaine.
December 2006: Math teacher Lisa Luhrsen, of Mililani Middle School, is arrested with fellow teacher Benjamin Ayson after a parent observed them smoking what appeared to be marijuana in Ayson's truck at the Mililani Park & Ride before heading off to school. Luhrsen pleaded no contest to possessing marijuana, a petty misdemeanor, and was granted a deferral of her plea for six months. Ayson's case was continued to April.
October 2006: Leilehua High School teacher Lee N. Anzai is arrested by law enforcement officials of the Hawaii Rapid Reduction Drug Task Force for allegedly dealing ice to an undercover officer. Anzai has pleaded guilty to dealing 15 ounces of ice and is awaiting sentencing in June.