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Pennsylvania House of Representatives Passes Drug Test Mandate for School Teachers

By Michael Klazema on 12/31/2013

In mid-December, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives made a big decision regarding applicants to public and private school teaching positions. In a vote that rang victorious with a near-unanimous 182-12 approval, the State House passed a new piece of legislation that would make pre-employment drug testing a common part of background check procedures in schools around the state. The “yes” vote will kick the bill over to the Senate, and if approved there, the law could likely go into effect as soon as 2014.

Unlike other employment screening laws, which generally require employers to run certain background checks on their applicants, but don’t always say precisely what employers should or must do with that information, the Pennsylvania school drug testing bill – officially called “House Bill 810” – really is a mandate. If a drug test indicated that a prospective schoolteacher had recently used a controlled substance other than a personally prescribed medication, law would prohibit the school district from hiring that particular applicant.

That’s not the only unique thing about Pennsylvania House Bill 810. On the contrary, not only would teachers be subject to a high-stakes drug test during their employment screening routine, but they would also be required to shoulder the cost of the drug test themselves. Teachers won’t take kindly to that part of the equation, especially depending on where in the employment screening process the drug test takes place.

From the language of the bill, it sounds as if the drug test would be required after the job had already been offered, with employment being conditional upon clean results. That way, a clean test would guarantee employment, and most applicants wouldn’t be too hesitant to spend the $30 or $50 to finalize their job offer. However, the Pennsylvania State Board of Education would have final say on how the drug tests would be implemented, and some teachers are worried that they could end up paying for multiple drug tests in any given job search with no guarantee for employment. A good compromise for the State of Pennsylvania might be to reimburse teachers who show clean drug test results.

The Pennsylvania State Education Association has another proposal: schools should have to show “probable cause” – or some form of concrete evidence or viable suspicion that an applicant may be using drugs – in order to require a drug test. The teacher’s union believes that the law “intrudes on individual privacy rights” without actually solving any problems, and thinks that state lawmakers should focus instead on creating legislation that helps drug abusers address their problems.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania has similar views, calling House Bill 810 an unconstitutional provision that would subject teachers to invasive and unreasonable searches and seizures. The ACLU has faced down similar legislation in other states, and toppled it through court litigation. The union plans to take this bill to the courts as well, should it pass through the Senate without issue. Like the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the ACLU of Pennsylvania believes the drug-testing bill would not actually solve any problems, mostly because drug use among teachers is a low-rate occurrence anyway. Mandated drug screenings, in most cases, would be a waste of time and money for school educators.

Regardless of the opposition, the bill’s sponsor, a Democrat Representative named Anthony DeLuca, is holding strong in his support for the bill. DeLuca believes that, since drug tests are already common among police officers and even school bus drivers, it would only be reasonable for them to be used for teachers as well. He hopes his bill will “truly make schools drug-free zones” and protect kids and teenagers from the dangers of substance abuse.

While teachers are among the most heavily background checked professionals in any job field, universal drug testing is still rare for the profession. Backgroundchecks.com, in addition to providing the sort of criminal background checks that are the norm in the education sector, also offers drug-testing solutions. The company uses industry-leading partners to get superior drug test results with quick turnaround times.

Sources: http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2013/12/house_passes_bill_requiring_pr.html


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