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Pa. bill would require drug testing for school job applicants

| Friday, Dec. 13, 2013, 10:34 p.m.

Bus drivers, financial directors and grocery store clerks can be required to take a drug test before they're hired in Pennsylvania — but not prospective school district employees.

That would change if legislation the state House passed on Tuesday becomes law and updates long-standing rules that allow school administrators to negotiate the inclusion of mandatory drug testing in union contracts. The Senate adjourned and will return to session on Jan. 7.

The bill is a no-brainer, said Rep. Anthony M. DeLuca, D-Penn Hills, who first proposed it four years ago. Some teachers union representatives contend the legislation isn't needed.

“Schools already require background checks; this is no different,” DeLuca said. “We want to head off problems before they start.”

David Broderic, state spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state's largest and most influential teachers union, said on Friday the bill “goes too far.”

“We are absolutely committed to protecting children and keeping classrooms safe, but we already have laws in place to discipline employees guilty of drug abuse on school grounds.

“The best way to solve a problem is to identify a problem that already exists,” Broderic said.

Critics argue the proposal violates employees' constitutional rights. Officials with the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania vowed to challenge the legislation in court if it becomes law.

“I don't want to wait for something horrible to happen for legislation like this to make it into public consciousness,” DeLuca said. “I just can't believe anyone would be against it.”

DeLuca called the proposal “a first step.” If his bill becomes law, he plans to propose a second bill to enforce random drug testing managed by school board members and negotiated through union contracts.

“I have way more calls, emails and Facebook messages coming in from teachers in favor of this measure than I do complaints,” he said. “Maybe the union reps are out of touch, because I don't think the average teacher wants someone working next to him who's impaired.”

The bill applies to anyone with direct contact with children, including prospective employees of public and private schools, intermediate units, vocational and technical schools, independent contractors and their employees beginning April 1, 2015. A controlled substances testing report would have to be submitted and paid for by the applicant after an offer of employment is made.

Valid prescriptions would be exempt.

Steve Robinson, spokesman for the Pennsylvania School Board Association, said the organization took a neutral position pending amendments that would clear up the bill's language.

“We believe the offer of employment needs to be conditional upon the results of the drug tests,” Robinson said. “It's also unclear if a positive test will result in a lifetime ban, and we'd like them to explain the type and scope of testing, so will this be urinalysis or a blood test — that sort of thing.”

Because the bill applies only to new applicants and not union members, Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers president Nina Esposito-Visgitis said she had no problem with the bill.

“Now if they add language that will affect our members, then we may oppose it.”

Megan Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5815 or mharris@tribweb.com.

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