School board members back drug tests

GLOVERSVILLE – In light of a school administrator being arrested on drug charges, members of the Gloversville Enlarged School District Board of Education said they are in favor of discussing drug testing for all district employees.

However, local and state officials said implementing such a policy would be easier said than done.

District Superintendent Michael Vanyo has declined to comment on whether the district has any type of drug screening policy, although state law requires school bus drivers be screened.

State Education Department spokesman Jonathan Burman said other than bus drivers, district employees are not legally required to be drug tested.

Board member Joseph Andrews would like to expand drug testing at Gloversville, including for members of the board, because “everyone should be held accountable.”

“Unfortunately, we do not drug test anyone in the school except the bus drivers, because that is mandated by the state,” Andrews said. “My vision of excellence is everyone would be drug tested, from administrators all the way down the line, as part of pre-employment screenings and random drug testing.”

“If we are going to make it a policy, we should do it for everyone,” he said. “We can’t limit it to just teachers or administrators because it has to be the same rules and ballpark for everybody involved.”

Board member Mike Hauser said he would also like to discuss possible changes with the board.

“As somebody who has been tested every time I have applied or gotten a new job, I don’t see how the school district should be any different,” Hauser said. “We are holding our children to that standard and trying to send a message, so I think this type of testing would be that much more important.”

Hauser said a change to the testing procedure would bring an additional cost to the district.

Members of the board noted negotiating such changes would also be difficult with the unions.

“The whole thing with the drug testing is, unfortunately, that has to be done through the contract,” board member Robert Curtis said. “I mean, we can ask, but they will just never go for it.”

Board President Richard Carlson said the issue is something the board “needs to take a look at,” although those discussions haven’t taken place yet.

“It raises a number of issues that we really need to look at and think through,” Carlson said. “There are legal issues, contractual issues, financial issues and I’m sure we are not the first district where this issue has come up, so we need to take a look at how it has been handled in other districts.”

Hamilton-Fulton-Montogomery Board of Cooperative Educational Services Superintendent Patrick Michel said applicants for schools within the region are not given tests for drugs, although they do undergo a fingerprint check and extensive background check.

“I’m not aware of any district that requires [drug testing] other than bus drivers,” he said. “I don’t think it would do much good. In the long run [Frank Pickus] probably would have passed that test as an initial employee because this is something that happened to him later in life.”

Pickus, the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, was charged March 2 by Colonie police with being in possession of methamphetamine after a traffic stop, police said.

He was charged with seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, criminal use of drug paraphernalia, both misdemeanors, and traffic infractions.

Police said Pickus was in possession of a small quantity of methamphetamine along with other drug paraphernalia.

Pickus is being paid $100,719 in 2013-14 and is currently on paid leave.

Attorney Michael McDermott of Albany said his client will get treatment for his “fairly recent” addiction and such treatment will not require a court order.

Vanyo said district administrators, including himself, temporarily will share the duties of administrator Pickus although the district may ultimately look to hire an interim to handle his responsibilities in the future.

While changes in drug-testing policy or procedure could be discussed, the actual implementation of such regulations may prove to be difficult for the district.

New York state’s highest court ruled in 1987 that it is unconstitutional to force public school teachers to submit to drug tests without a ”reasonable suspicion” of drug use.

The unanimous ruling by the Court of Appeals declared a drug-testing program for probationary teachers in the Patchogue-Medford school district in Long Island illegal.

In 1985 the Patchogue-Medford School District notified teachers eligible for tenure that they would be required to produce a urine sample to determine whether any of them were using drugs illegally. The sample would be collected by the school nurse and sent to a laboratory for testing. Any teacher who refused to provide the urine sample would not be recommended for tenure. There was no evidence of a drug problem among the teaching staff, tenured or not tenured.

The teachers’ union brought a lawsuit to prohibit the drug testing plan, claiming that it would violate teachers’ constitutional rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. The state Court of Appeals considered the challenge under both the state and the U.S. constitutions’ provisions prohibiting unreasonable searches and seizures. They decided unanimously that the plan was unconstitutional.

NYS Education Law Section 913 states that a Board of Education, in order to safeguard the health of children attending the schools, may require any person employed by the board of education or board of cooperative educational services to submit to a medical examination by a physician or other health care provider of his or her choice in order “to determine the physical or mental capacity of such person to perform his or her duties.”

Two local state officials in the assembly and senate both said they believe passing legislation and enforcing faculty other than drivers within any district to be tested would be difficult.

“It’s very tied up within constitutionality,” state Sen. Hugh T. Farley, R-Niskayuna, said. “It’s very very difficult to drug test teachers. There is no legislation on that because it seems to me they would have to amend the constitution.”

“I’m not aware of any push for it,” Assemblyman Marc Butler, R-Newport, said.