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Debates Loom on Drug-Testing New Jersey Schoolteachers

In the Lacey Township School District located in New Jersey, drug testing has been the norm for years for students and bus drivers alike. But now, in an effort to strengthen its anti-drug agenda, the school's administration and board are considering making drug testing a requirement for all of their incoming employees – which includes schoolteachers.

Superintendent Craig Wigley told App.com that the Board of Education is currently in talks as to whether mandatory drug testing should be added to the already required physical exam that all new employees must undergo. This would be the latest move in an already aggressive fight that the school has been leading against illegal drug use.

Already, Lacey Township High School requires its athletes and those who are interested in extracurricular activities to participate in random drug tests. Parents of middle school students can also opt for their children to be drug tested as well. Right now, the idea of drug testing teachers and staff is still up in the air because it can become pretty expensive to implement. Wigley noted that the school is attempting to figure out if such an idea would be affordable.

Teachers make up a majority of Lacey's staff, with 60 percent of their 700 staff members being teachers. Further, if Lacey were to go ahead and drug test its upcoming employees, it would not be alone in doing so. Pinelands Regional already requires that all of its teachers and staff submit to pre-screening via urinalysis, and Superintendent Maryann Banks confirmed that this policy has been put into practice since 2012.

New Jersey law permits school boards to require that their incoming teachers and staff be drug tested as soon as they are hired. However, it is unclear at the moment just how many school districts are acting on these policies. Janet Bamford, a spokeswoman for the New Jersey School Boards Association, said that while the number of schools that participate is not tracked, guidance is provided to those districts that express an interest in adopting these rules.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the U.S. Supreme Court, back in 2002, broadened public schools' ability to drug test their middle and high school students. Per the Court, public schools are permitted to require that students submit to random drug testing if they participate in any extracurricular activities that are competitive, not just sports. Before the 2002 ruling, random drug testing applied to student athletes only.

While it may seem like a no-brainer, especially in today's opioid epidemic, to drug test all incoming teachers and staff, legislators, educators, and parents are trying to decide now if spending an already limited budget to drug test what could amount to dozens of candidates every year is really the best use of restricted resources.

Add to that the fact that candidates' privacy is another major concern. For instance, in 2016, a group of Washington, D.C.-based private schools argued that subjecting preschool teachers to random drug tests violated their right to privacy as provided by the U.S. Constitution. Discussions remain in their early stages, and no date has yet been established insofar as the school board's vote to draft a policy.