ACLU Applauds Hawaii Board of Education’s Rejection of Random Teacher Drug Testing and Condemns Governor’s Threat to Withhold Wages

Affiliate: ACLU of Hawaii
January 25, 2008 12:00 am

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ACLU of Hawaii
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HONOLULU – The American Civil Liberties Union applauded the Hawaii State Board of Education for its decision not to fund the random drug testing of Hawaii’s educators. In a unanimous vote yesterday evening, the Board of Education rejected a motion that would have allocated $400,000 just to initiate the random testing policy – additional funds would be necessary to conduct the actual random tests. In response to the Board’s decision, Governor Linda Lingle today threatened to withhold a wage increase included in the teachers’ union’s most recent contract.

“The Board has done Hawaii’s students a tremendous service in recognizing that our precious school dollars should be devoted to the classroom, not diverted toward an ineffective, unconstitutional teacher drug testing scheme,” said Daniel Gluck, Senior Staff Attorney of the ACLU of Hawaii. “Governor Lingle should be ashamed of her attempt to score political points at the expense of teachers’ livelihoods and students’ well-being.”

In the course of last night’s proceedings, Board members repeatedly criticized Governor Lingle for her failure to fund the random drug testing policy, which she insisted be instituted during contract negotiations with the Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA) late last year. Without a special allocation of funds from the Governor, Board members concluded that the Board would have to take money away from student services and educational programs to pay for the drug testing program. The Board unanimously declined to take money away from Hawaii’s schoolchildren to implement the Governor’s unfunded mandate.

The plan to randomly drug test educators absent any suspicion is the first of its kind in the United States. In addition to violating Hawaii educators’ constitutional right to privacy, the drug testing program teaches a perverse civics lesson to Hawaii’s students: that the democratic and constitutional values taught in the classroom are meaningless in the real world.

Critics of the blanket testing policy also point out that provisions already exist under current Department of Education policy to take action on any educator who arouses suspicion of drug use, rendering the random drug testing proposal almost entirely symbolic.

Teachers opposed to the random drug testing proposal yesterday voiced their concerns before the Board, emphasizing the unconstitutional and wasteful nature of the plan.

“By opposing this random drug testing policy, some people have asked whether I have something to hide. I tell them that I have nothing to hide, but I do have something to protect: my constitutional right to privacy,” said Tony Turbeville, a math teacher at Kawananakoa Middle School in Honolulu and 14 year veteran of the Department of Education. “I am a teacher. I have a duty to teach my students that they have to stand up for their rights.”

Robin Fancy, formerly the only school librarian at Lanai High and Elementary School before her position was cut for lack of funding, echoed the sentiment of several Board members: “I cannot understand how it makes sense to fund this drug testing program when we have failed to provide even the most basic educational services for Hawaii’s students.”

The ACLU has been contacted by more than 200 educators seeking to challenge the random drug testing policy and plans to file a lawsuit should the policy ever gain necessary funding. Were the random drug testing policy ruled unconstitutional, its removal would have no bearing on the rest of the recently negotiated HSTA contract, including the wage increase that the Governor has threatened to withhold.

“Let us hope that this vote marks the end of the road for the Governor’s politically motivated drug testing proposal,” said Gluck. “If we are truly concerned about student safety, resources should be directed toward fact-based education about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, not this ineffective, unconstitutional and exceedingly costly program.”

Additional information on the random drug testing proposal and the ACLU’s objections, including biographical materials and video testimonial from impacted teachers, can be found online at: www.aclu.org/teachersjoinus.

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