Schools’ drug-test rules debated
Teacher drug tests might face suit
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Students privacy rights at public schools will remain intact for now after the state Board of Education deferred voting last night on rules that would give administrators unlimited access into lockers, allow them to remove some clothing during searches and use drug-sniffing dogs on campuses.
School board members postponed action on the proposals after hearing testimony warning of possible legal implications.
The measures are among revisions to the student misconduct code being considered by the board. The proposed changes to a section known as Chapter 19 would still need to be debated in public hearings and receive Gov. Linda Lingle's signature before taking effect.
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The state Board of Education could not agree last night on whether to let school administrators open students' lockers to look for contraband whenever they want, remove some of the students' clothing during searches and expand a drug-sniffing dog program to improve safety on campuses.
After more than three hours of debate, board members deferred a vote to adopt sweeping revisions to the 6-year-old student misconduct code. The changes would still need to go to public hearings and receive Gov. Linda Lingle's signature before taking effect.
Board members, who have been struggling with the issue for months, have held several meetings in which they were warned about possible legal implications of the new rules but also were praised for considering broader controls and stricter penalties aimed at curbing drug use and violence at isle schools.
University of Hawaii law professor Jon Van Dyke advised the board to reject the changes, saying the suggested locker searches and dog sniffing without reason or cause would violate state and federal laws outlining student rights.
"What this proposal does is assumes that they are all criminals, that they are all drug users," he said in testimony that lasted for 1 1/2 hours. "If we teach them that they are worthless, that they have no right, then that will rebound to our detriment."
But Justin Mew, principal of Niu Valley Middle School, urged members to adopt the document, noting it was compiled with the help of the state attorney general's office.
Mew, who was among a committee of educators who drafted the rules, said, "We were committed to a safe learning environment."
School board member Mary Cochran, one of the strongest backers of the revisions, said members were facing "a dilemma."
"We know that drugs and alcohol are in our secondary schools," she said. "How do we tackle that?"
The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii objected to several provisions, including one that permits school officials to take off students' trench coats, jackets and oversize pants during searches. While current rules bar removing clothing that would expose genitals or breasts, the group cautioned that some students might not be wearing anything below coats, jackets or baggy pants.
The ACLU argued that the locker searches and drug dogs -- as well as another clause that allows administrators to punish students for a cyberbullying offense even if they used an off-campus computer -- could all lead to privacy or free-speech lawsuits.
Although the proposals have been controversial among policymakers and civil rights advocates, the 15-person Hawaii State Student Council supports both the blanket locker searches and the dog program, said member Jillian Oyama, a junior at Kaiser High School. She said giving principals access to lockers at any time sends a strong message that illegal substances are not tolerated.
Teacher drug tests might face suit
Testing became an issue after a series of drug-related arrests
Saying they have the support of more than 150 public school teachers, the American Civil Liberties Union threatened yesterday to sue the state if it does not cancel plans to randomly test teachers for drugs by next month.
In a letter, the organization gave Gov. Linda Lingle until Nov. 15 to suspend the program set to begin June 30. The ACLU does not oppose the reasonable-suspicion testing portion of the policy, which would also cover librarians, counselors and curriculum coordinators.
Lingle will review the letter -- which claims the random testing would be illegal -- with state Attorney General Mark Bennett before responding to the demand, said Linda Smith, her senior policy adviser.
"She continues to believe that putting the safety of our schools at the forefront is really essential," Smith said.
The ACLU's announcement came a day after it held the last of six meetings with teachers on all islands to discuss the testing, which the state added as a non-negotiable item in a contract ratified this spring by the 13,000-member Hawaii State Teachers Association.
"Teachers who have come to the meetings feel very insulted by the fact that they are the role models and mentors to their students and yet they are treated like criminals or suspects by the governor," said Graham Boyd, director of the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project.
The ACLU, which contends the program would be ineffective, costly and in violation of privacy rights, said courts have struck down similar drug tests proposed at other schools in the country. Nationally, less than 10 percent of school districts test teachers for drugs, according to the teachers union.
Teachers have said they would rather use $200 -- the estimated cost of each drug test -- to buy school supplies, said ACLU staff attorney Carlie Ware.
In May, 61.3 percent of more than 8,000 union members voted to ratify the contract giving them 4 percent raises in the current and next school years. Bennett has said the ratification makes any legal challenge moot, but Boyd said the vote has nothing do to with whether the program is lawful.
"The governor cannot put an illegal provision into a contract and say, 'You can only get a living wage if you agree to let me break the law,'" he said.
Plans for the drug testing policy came in the wake of six drug-related arrests of Department of Education employees in a six-month period, beginning in October 2006, when a Leilehua High School teacher was arrested for dealing crystal methamphetamine. Currently, the education department conducts drug tests only of bus drivers, some physical therapists and auto mechanics instructors.
The teachers union has already developed guidelines to test teachers based on reasonable suspicion, and is working out the random portion with the Education Department.