Hawaii Says Yes but No to Drug Testing

A drug-testing plan that pays bigger salaries to teachers in Hawaii backfires.

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Screening students for illegal drugs and alcohol is common in some parts of the country. The practice is supposed to discourage drug use among high school students. In Hawaii, it's teachers who are supposed to submit to random drug screening. Two years ago, the state's teachers union agreed that its members would be tested for drugs in exchange for pay raises. Now that the promised raises will soon kick in, state education officials are accusing teachers of not honoring their end of the bargain. The dispute could wind up in court.

The unusual agreements between the teachers union and state education officials came after the islands' residents were scandalized by a spate of drug busts involving several educators two years ago. One special education teacher pleaded guilty to selling more than $40,000 in crystal methamphetamine to an undercover agent.

No teacher has been tested under the agreement. Teachers say "suspicion-less" tests are a violation of their privacy rights. "Random testing isn't going to suddenly increase test scores," Mike McCartney, executive director for the Hawaii State Teachers Association, told the Associated Press. "This is a huge distraction from how to make our schools better."

State education officials are flummoxed by the teachers' reversal. "I can't understand why any average Joe, anyone of reasonable mind, would object to this. It's good for the schools, teachers, and state," said the state's human resources director who negotiated the contract. "They're just trying to get out of doing it."

In January, the starting annual salary for new teachers will be $43,157, and teachers with more than 33 years of experience will earn $79,170 a year.

Only a handful of districts nationwide require random drug screenings of teachers. Those that do also test students and say it is only fair to hold teachers to the same standard. Where do you fall in this debate? Should communities require classroom teachers to clear drug tests even when there is no suspicion of wrongdoing?

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